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Woman highlights international travel with new show

ENCINITAS — San Diego resident Sharon Lee quit her job and invested everything into Culture Club, a TV show in which she highlights various cultures around the world.

She created the series, in part, to change the negative perceptions surrounding international travel. The pilot episode, shot in Kenya, will premiere at 1 p.m. April 26 at La Paloma.

Q: How did the idea for Culture Club come about? 

I’ve been traveling my whole life. When my parents wanted to travel, I went with them when I was little. I saw Europe, Indonesia — all over the world when I was quite small.  That’s how I got the bug, and I just continued. The idea for Culture Club is to be an advocate for these countries.

Everyone says, “Isn’t it scary? Why do you keep going to these places?” I really wanted to show the positive side of international travel.

Q: You believe international travel isn’t as dangerous as the media makes it out to be. How do you convince people that countries that are less well off are OK to visit? 

It’s all about common sense and logic. I’m not advocating at all going to Afghanistan or Syria or a place that’s clearly dangerous.

For most countries, I think it’s very safe if you are very respectful and act like a guest. If you stay in a safe part and you treat people like you’d like to be treated, you have a really great experience. I feel like a lot of the news focuses on the negative. And I’m trying to show that a 46-year-old woman can go to Africa by herself and have the greatest time.

Q: There’s quite a few travel shows. What’s unique about yours? 

I think it goes beyond the tourist attractions. I go into people’s homes. I travel alone, and I’m usually invited to the local spots where

nobody goes or knows about. I want to capture a side of these people that’s not shown.

I want to depict the day-to-day life, and I don’t think other shows go there. Travel genres have been food or adventure related; mine is all about people and culture, and the positive side.

Q: There’s a ton to do in any given country. How do you narrow down what to include in an episode? 

I usually start by asking the bellman of a hotel. When I show them any respect or attention, they want to tell me what’s happening. Every place I go — like Vietnam, Kenya, Uganda — they’re very proud of their culture. I usually choose a nightlife spot.  And any day-to-day activities people might not think about when they go to these places. What the locals like to do, where they eat, where they do, where they play. Anything where people will say, “Oh, I didn’t know they do that.” That’s what I try and show.

Q: You’ve self-financed all of this show. Tell me about that.

I was in the pharmaceutical industry for 12 years, and prior to that in the hospitality industry. Luckily, my employers have always been very flexible about time to travel. I sold everything. I sold my stock. Literally everything I can to get to these places.

Fortunately, that’s one benefit; it’s not expensive to go to Africa. To fly there, yes. But it’s a budget trip when there.

Q: Are there are any moments of filming that stick out as especially memorable?

In Uganda, I interviewed a panel of students at Makerere University, which was focused on relationships. During the panel, one girl said she doesn’t mind being the fourth wife. And another guy next to her said he’d like to have 12 children. He was very clear about their culture: they’re powerful and stronger if they produce babies.

But it’s often not the men’s responsibility to take care of those babies. It’s their duty to produce. And the girls have accepted it’s their job to raise them. That’s just their culture. It’s a little hard not judge, but it’s their way, and you have to respect that. That was a lesson that I remember.

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