One of the best reasons to travel is often to see how we’re all connected to one another in this global community. J. Chase Harps is a man about his business and his money. As Managing Partner of his own company, Travelers Choice Concessions, LLC, and an MBA grad, he is no stranger to the business world. But it was falling in love with travel that showed him the real world was about more than just dollars and cents.
EBONY: So, when did you first fall in love with travel?
J. Chase Harps: I first fell in love with traveling during a student exchange program for a semester at an international school in Osaka, Japan. The travel bug took over when my classmates and I took local cheap flights to neighboring countries such as Australia and South Korea. Also, during that time, I lived in a 3- story building called a “seminar house” with people from literally all parts of the world such as Finland, Spain, Australia and Egypt. Sharing a dormitory with so many people from other countries exposed me to habits and customs that I had never seen before. This encouraged me to learn more about my housemates as we developed friendships and discovered areas of similar interests in sports, music, and fashion.
EBONY: What inspired you to choose your destination?
JCH: When I was real young, I developed a strong interest in the martial arts after I got beat up by some kids at the community YMCA in front a cute girl I was trying to get with back in the day. I chose to study karate after seeing a Bruce Lee movie, and the nearest martial arts school in my neighborhood taught the Japanese style of karate. I’m the kind of person who goes into something with everything I’ve got, so I when I started studying karate I felt like I had to know everything about the art form- not just how to fight, but its history, its language, and where its culture came from.
Therefore, during my senior year in college when I came across the opportunity to go to Japan for study abroad, the decision was simple to make because I had already set my mind on going there several years earlier.
EBONY: How did you deal with racial, cultural and/or language barriers and differences?
JCH: I welcomed it and ran towards it! I figure things that make us uncomfortable are also things that make us better, if we approach them with an open perspective. Many of the stereotypes I encountered in Japan came from superficial sources of information (television, media, somebody else’s opinion, etc). So, I approached the awkward stares, language gaps, and judgmental comments from some Japanese people as opportunities to change their perception of me, and hopefully other African-American men and women.
For example, when I was living in Japan I used to always walk into a Lawson convenience store (as they are often called) with my headphones on turned up real loud listening to my music. I would notice Japanese kids or workers looking at me funny, and I used to just take my headphones off and offer to let them listen to the music. Sometimes it didn’t work out in my favor and they would walk off, but many times, they accepted and we’d both be in the store chilling listening to T.I.’s ” 24’s” or 50 Cents “ In the Club”.
I noticed how that type of engagement made people smile, and once someone smiles at you with their eyes you know you’ve gotten past their initial barriers. This same kind of thing has happened to me in India, Thailand, Brazil, Indonesia, China, etc. I won’t say everything is okay in any situation and of course you have to always use good judgment, but more often than not, the cultural barriers we deal with are shallow, insignificant and easy to break in my opinion.
EBONY: Was there a defining moment during your trip that you’ll never forget? What lessons did you learn?
JCH: Well, I journal almost everyday when I travel to different countries so I feel like I’m always gathering a lot of amazing moments. But, one moment in particular that I will always remember was again in Japan. The father of my Japanese host family gave me his 25- year old kendo “bogu” (training uniform) and “shinai” (wooden training sword) to take back to America. When he gave it to me, before I left he told me “Chase-san, Bushido wasurenai” or don’t forget Bushido, the philosophy of Japan’s ancient Samurai.
The lesson I learned from this experience is that regardless of nationality, ethnic or cultural differences, fundamentally people can understand why we do certain things even though they may not ever understand the same language or cultural subtleties. At the end of the day, most people want to have positive experiences with someone or something different. Life can be an adventure, if you let it.
EBONY: How has travel shaped your life and view of the world?
JCH: It makes me think the world is more connected than our economic and societal structures allow us to believe. I always say formal education can be valuable if used properly, and professional education is always available, but I think the real education comes from life experiences. Traveling provides that. You see things differently when you experience them up close and personal. The memories and feelings you get leave a lasting impression in your mind much longer than what you can read about in a book. I think the world is both large and small at the same time. Now, even in terms of my business and my academic education, I usually try to think about issues a bit more holistically and broadly whereas before I started traveling I usually focused on issues with a more narrow perspective.
EBONY: What experiences do you seek out when you travel?
JCH: I try to look for fun, intangible experiences that can’t be replaced or reproduced. Visiting historic, famous cites or going to nice resorts in remote countries is all well and good, but I try to tap in to what makes the people of that country tick. It could be, for example, a random street performance in Bali, or a friendly invitation to play Capoeira in Rio, Brazil. Sometimes, it’s been smoking hookah with professional cricket players in India, or sipping shochu in VIP lounges with Yakuza members.
It’s hard to describe in words, but you know when you see it because you can feel it. You kind of know it intuitively when you come across those special moments, so you run towards them and don’t concern yourself with the consequences. I haven’t talked to everyone who has ever traveled, but I’ve heard way more about what did happen that was amazing, rather than what happened that was horrible.
EBONY: What five countries are on your travel bucket list?
JCH: Just five?! Well if I had to choose I’d say Egypt, New Zealand, France, Spain and Germany…for now!
EBONY: What advice would you give to someone looking to travel, but feel they are being held back by finances, jobs, children, age, fear, etc?
JCH: I would recommend that he/she make a list of not only where they would like to go, but also what kind of experiences they would like to have during their trip. Perhaps that way they can get more use out of their financial resources and share the experience with family members to add value. As far as job is concerned; my view is a job is a man-made means of economic survival so adjust your discretionary income priorities to revolve around traveling and you’ll be good to go.
You’re never too old to travel, but honestly, why wait? Fear is for folks who have time to think about it. So don’t think. Just pick a place and go. There’s no better time than the immediacy of now.
EBONY: Three words to describe why people should travel?
JCH: Forever. Change. Perspective
Danielle Pointdujour is a native Brooklynite living and writing in the Big Apple. You can find Danielle sharing her personal outlook on love, life and travel on various publications across the web.