Mental Popcorn for the Culturally Curious: The Culture Genie’s Guide to the Movies

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
May 29, 2013 / 0 comments

One of my very favorite websites is Culture Every Day. Here, global educator Justine Ickes delves deeply into the world - life, people, cultures, traditions, and more. It's a great place for intercultural reading and discussion, and a site I highly recommend. So I was VERY pleased to find that Justine has a new (and FREE!) ebook out, called The Culture Genie’s Guide to the Movies. In it, she uses movies as a way to get people thinking about culture, and interactions, and life. Ah, yes - I love this stuff. I asked Justine to tell us about her new book - and the backstory - and ways to get kids interested in the world, and culture. This is a woman after my own heart - read on to see her great answers - and then head over to get your copy of her Movie Guide. If you're like me, you'll be clamoring for more from Justine!


Justine Ickes, Culture Every Day



Please tell us about your new book, The Culture Genie’s Guide to the Movies

I’m very excited because this is the first e-book I’ve written! The Culture Genie’s Guide to the Movies is an easy, accessible guide to using movies to boost your cultural I.Q. In it you’ll find synopses of four movies – each one is set in a different country - followed by discussion questions to help you reflect on and learn from the movies. Think of it as “mental popcorn for the culturally curious”.


Culture Genie's Guide to the Movies


What inspired you to write this guide?

We live a very interconnected world today and it’s so important that we all be globally aware. Many people, however, do not have the luxury of traveling around the world. But the beauty and art of the cinema is that it can transport you to other places. You really can travel with your mind!

I’ve always loved to watch foreign films – the first international film I remember was Heidi, in fact. I love movies that are set in another country, or are about other cultures, not just for what they can teach me about the rest of the world, but more importantly, for what they can teach me about myself and my cultural assumptions. I wrote The Culture Genie’s Guide to the Movies to share that love of learning with other film buffs and culture-vores. 


How can families truly integrate cross-cultural activities into their daily lives?

That’s a great question but, to be honest, I have some issues with the basic premise of “integrating cross-cultural activities” as though “culture” is some exotic element that exists “out there” beyond U.S. borders.  The truth is that each of us is immersed in our own culture every day. Every person, no matter where they live or what culture they grew up in, has deep-seated culturally-based assumptions, beliefs, and values. On my blog I’ve written about cultural blinders  - we’re sort of like fish swimming in water. We can’t see the water but that doesn’t mean it, i.e. culture, doesn’t color how we act, what we value, why we think the way we do.

While I think it’s important that parents expose their kids to different worlds – cooking foods from other countries, listening to world music, and talking about current events are three excellent ways to do that - I think it is much more important that we all understand and examine our own cultural beliefs. That’s the first step in breaking down the “us versus them” mentality that is the root of so much conflict in our world today.

Don’t get me wrong – I applaud all the fabulous initiatives, blogs, web sites that promote cultural awareness and raising global kids. But, personally, I’d much rather my children be able explain why Americans value freedom and individual success over other cultural values, or the importance of the extended family in Turkey, than that they be able to name “holidays around the world” or make a piñata for Cinco de Mayo or some other festival. If we want to raise the next generation of kids to be culturally aware, then we need to go beyond superficial activities and emphasize critical thinking and reflection about our own culture.


What are your top suggestions to get kids interested in the world?

•    Buy an atlas! A little geography knowledge can go a long way!

•    Talk about current events and help your kids make the cultural connections. For example, recently we met a veteran who’d served in Iraq. My kids were shocked to hear that the U.S. has troops stationed overseas. That chance encounter led to a long conversation about democracy, patriotism, and “doing the right thing” – values that are hard-wired into the America psyche. It wasn’t an easy conversation, and it’s still on-going, but it’s one way parents can challenge their kids to think about culture.

•    Participate in a pen pal exchange or swap like Worldwide Culture Swap so your children can interact with other kids.


What is up next for you?

As a freelance writer and instructional designer, I’m always looking for stories to tell – whether they’re my own adventures or the experiences of other cross-cultural families. I spent last summer in Turkey with my two kids and we’re going again for a month this June.  I’m currently working on a series of personal essays about my experiences in Turkey. My culinary travel story about making molasses with my mother-in-law will appear in Gastronomica in the fall.  I hope some day to turn that story and other like it into an anthology.  At my blog Culture Every Day, I’m working hard to create a destination for anyone who’s embarking on, or already in, a cross-cultural relationship. Of course, I have more ideas for The Culture Genie Guide to… series so I hope your readers will stop by and check out what’s on offer at the blog!


Thanks, Jessie, for the chance to share my thoughts on Wandering Educators!




All photos courtesy and copyright Justine Ickes