The world is currently transitioning out of the largest travel drought in a generation. The threat of contagion kept borders closed, airlines operating at fractional capacity, and billions of people cooped up in tight quarters for months on end. At one low point during the pandemic, airline index $JETS had shed nearly two thirds of its value. Many people wondered whether permanent damage had been done to an industry that was forecasted to achieve an approximate $1 trillion valuation by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, supply chain issues and shocks to supply-demand economics have caused the prices of new and used cars to soar. All things considered, the global transportation industry is recovering quite nicely, but with a caveat. It is not yet clear what long-term effect the rise of communication technologies like Zoom, WhatsApp, and Square will have on business and lifestyle. Will people value physical presence enough to spend time and money when a lot of social and work-related activities can, in theory, be accomplished remotely? Will better technology and more cushy home arrangements demotivate people from traveling to attend events, visit landmarks, and see the world in person? The answer to these questions, of course, is some measure of degree, not a binary yes-or-no. What is definitive is the fact that the world is evolving at an extremely fast clip relative to the rest of human history.
This week, I interviewed someone whose life uniquely intersects with some of the themes introduced in the previous paragraph, my brother Andrew Batarseh. Andrew is a foodie, a movie buff, and a rabid sports fan. Native to Columbus, Ohio, he currently works as an itinerant leadership consultant for a college fraternity. I hope you enjoy the following account of a 60-minute interview conducted over the phone. The subject matter is as personal as it is of general interest to travel aficionados and people otherwise experiencing unusually high levels of wanderlust. You can find Andrew on Instagram @_Batarseh, where he frequently publishes pictures and videos documenting his adventures.
Wanderlust: a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about.Dictionary.com
Tell the people a little about yourself.
My name is Andrew Batarseh. I am from Columbus, Ohio. I graduated from Ohio State in December of 2020 with a degree in English. I work for a Christian social fraternity called Beta Upsilon Chi, colloquially pronounced as “Bucks,” like the football team, but spelled BYX. I got involved with the fraternity in college and was offered a job as a leadership consultant after graduation. The nature of my job consists of a lot of travel, relationship building, and phone calls.
I love food, cooking, and the culture around food. One of my favorite parts about traveling is the opportunity to try different foods. I love sports, as well. I grew up around them. It’s primarily football right now at this stage in my life. I’m also a big movie buff. I have my own movie rating system. I admit that I am a bit of a movie snob.
How did you decide on English? I don’t remember you talking much about it growing up.
I changed my major four times. I went from engineering, to two majors in pre-med, and then business. A series of indecision and unfortunate events led me to decide on English, so that I could graduate in 4 and a half years, and also develop a skill that I enjoy. I like writing. I think I’m fairly good at it. Overall, I would say that my choice of major has proven to be somewhat marketable.
What is it exactly that you do?
Practically, I travel to six different universities every semester. There are 35 total represented by our organization, and I am responsible for six of them. Once every semester, I consult with their officer team in person. I also develop relationships with the members of the chapter. I do things ranging from having fun and playing football, to solving problems that the brothers are having with one another. Overall, my job description is a wide spectrum of relationship development and problem-solving.
Aside from that, I coach. There are a handful of officer positions. I coach our vice presidents. The vice presidents plan parties and manage the social engagement of each chapter. I also coach treasurers and am responsible for our budget. We have a national philanthropy called Living Water, which builds wells in Rwanda. I facilitate relationships to support that effort. We have a campaign called 10 days, where for 10 days all of our members drink only water and donate the money they would have spent on drinking other beverages.
More people today are working remotely than ever. With technologies like Zoom and Google Meet, why is it necessary for you to go to these places in person? How do you see the trade-off between efficiency, on one hand, and depth and quality, on the other?
Very simply, human connection is most robust when face to face and tangible. As much as I would like to develop deep connection via Zoom, text, and phone calls with the 230 guys that I oversee, it’s just not possible. Technology is convenient, but it isn’t as realistic or effective as spending time with people in person.
People my age or younger are trained to engage with society through instant gratification via digital media. It’s so easy to send a text message. It’s so easy to scroll for news and highlights. People are starting to lose very basic, necessary social skills. I meet a lot of young men who struggle with communication, struggle with face-to-face interaction, and have social anxiety. It’s a serious problem. While technology can be great and necessary in the world we live in, we are starting to notice many of the drawbacks.
What I’m doing is almost counter-cultural to how a lot of people I know are used to engaging with the world. I don’t know if I would use the word spiritual, but the human soul needs to be present with others. It’s healthy for us in a way that I cannot fully explain. While I’m not technically well-versed on it, I know there are experts out there who can speak about it with more detail.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences in other states?
Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Baton Rouge is the furthest thing from Ohio in the US that I have ever experienced. It feels like every event, especially football games, is one big party. Everything revolves around food, which in some ways is similar to the Middle Eastern culture that I grew up with. It’s very flamboyant and extravagant and exciting and colorful. It’s also swampy and humid down there, weather-wise, which I don’t like.
Baton Rouge has a really interesting and unique culture that was influenced by the French. Their buildings look French. Their food is French-inspired. I think they’re the only pocket of the US where that is truly the case. In some places in Louisiana, it feels like you’re flying to a different country.
I also went to a Death Valley football game [LSU college football]. Many people say it’s the best environment in college football. I biasedly disagree being an OSU fan and having worked for the team, but it was a very cool experience.
Have you gotten the opportunity to travel international?
I’ve been to Israel with BYX. I’ve been to Brazil and the Dominican Republic on mission trips as an undergrad. I also went to Jordan to visit family several years ago.
What is your favorite part about traveling for work?
In reference to what I said early, getting to try new local food is one of my more enjoyable experiences. I’m a big foodie. Before starting my current job, I worked for a year at a local restaurant called Third and Hollywood. I learned about mixology, i.e., the art of making cocktails. I learned a lot about beer and wine. I also learned a lot about food from being in that environment and directing questions to the head chef.
Do you have any aspirations to get more involved in the food world?
I have some culinary aspirations that I’m still figuring out. I’m not sure if I want to go to culinary school, work at a good restaurant, or do restaurant management. However, I’m pretty sure that is the space I want to be in in the future. I now know so much about the back-end restaurant business, with answers to questions like “How much does it cost to bring in broccoli and Brussel sprouts?” “How do you make steak here?” I still need to pinpoint what it is exactly that I love about this industry, and what route I would need to take to get me where I want to go.
What is your least favorite part about traveling for work?
I love being at home, too. I am an introvert deep down. I recover alone, and when I’m traveling, it is very difficult to get that alone time to rest up. I’m always on the go. I’m always around people. I’m always, in a way, needing to perform, by asking good questions and being very present, emotionally and mentally. It really takes a toll. I come back home and am basically incapacitated for two days until I get some rest and alone time.
Are there any special opportunities that come with a job like this?
This one will mainly just appeal to sports fans, but I’ve been able to see a lot of college football games in person. I’ve seen a Georgia football game, an LSU football game, and an Oklahoma State football game. I would never casually fly to one of these places just to see one of these games, but being there in person with the guys from the fraternity enables me to do that. All of my college visits are planned, and football lately has been a part of that plan.
What about special challenges or temptations that accompany travel?
It’s rare that I get a night of sleep with more than six hours in a comfortable location. Over a weeklong visit, that deficit can really add up. I don’t sleep in a hotel. I stay with the members of the organization. I’m typically sleeping on their couch or on an air mattress, or some other random location in their living room. I’m very grateful for it, but, in reality, it is a difficult place to get quality sleep. Sleep is the biggest practical/logistical challenge. Other than that, all of my expenses are covered. The only thing I need to do is make sure I am remaining within the budget for a visit. Not spending too much money on food—food is one of my biggest expenses—but I would say it’s really not that hard.
As far as temptation, the number one way it comes is when I’m really exhausted and looking for some sort of relief or distraction. The Christian guys I stay with on campus are a kind of accountability, but also the staff. There are five guys who do my role total, and we talk weekly about topics just like this one. So, on a regular basis, I’m talking with guys who understand what it’s like to visit a chapter in another state. They are the ones asking the difficult questions and making sure I keep my mental, spiritual, and emotional health a priority. There are people looking after me, and people I am looking after, as well.
You were born and raised in Central Ohio. You talked about your perception of Baton Rouge. How do some of the other places you’ve been to compare to the Buckeye State?
People talk a little bit differently down south. The food they eat is a little bit different. I haven’t been to a city as big as Columbus yet, so size. Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Georgia—they all have a little bit of a southern twist to them. Texas is very dry. Ohio is very humid. I could list more differences, but I will end with this statement: every time I go and visit a new place I tend to appreciate Columbus a little more afterwards.
In the intro, you self-identified as a movie buff with a proprietary system for rating movies. What’s that all about?
Basically, I rate every movie that I watch. The scale is divided into several categories, including acting, dialogue, cinematography, and sound. There’s about 10 to 12 categories total. Each category is weighted differently based on how much I value that set element of the movie. For example, acting and plot are my two heaviest categories. And then sound and cinematography make up the second tier. Each category has its own point criteria, and I’ll grade the movie based on all of these different variables. The most total points you can receive is 100.
The highest movie I’ve rated so far is a movie called Sound of Metal. It’s a movie about the journey of a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing. I won’t say anything more about the movie because I recommend everyone reading this go and watch it. But it has a 92 overall, so it’s a pretty strict scale I have going on. Goodfellows is another 90. It’s a Martin Scorsese mafia movie. And then there’s Parasite, a Korean film by Bong Joon-ho. 91. That one is about a Korean family who is struggling in the economy and decides to get a job at a wealthy family’s house. There’s a really fun twist that I won’t disclose because you should go see it. The lowest score I’ve ever given is Good Morning Vietnam. 48. That movie didn’t age well.
To my mind, movies are not a very social activity. I think it’s noteworthy that someone with your active lifestyle would take them up as a hobby. What effect do movies have on your life? Do you see movies as a kind of complement or counterbalance?
I used to play way too much video games. Now I don’t play them nearly at all. It was an unhealthy form of escapism. As I’ve matured, movies have turned into something that I can enjoy with an appropriate amount of time. They help me to get my alone time and to experience and reflect on a world outside of my own.
My closest friends are just as in to movies as I am. Counter to your anti-social point, movies can be a very social experience for my friend group. We’ll watch a two-hour movie, and then spend just as much time talking about it afterwards. The movies become a part of our lingo. They become a part of the jokes we make. We have art on the walls from the movies we like. Movies are a big part of the fabric of our culture together.
What is one place, domestic or international, that you haven’t been to but would like to visit?
Iceland. In the summer, when you can see the northern lights. They have beautiful green landscapes and really comfortable summer weather. I bet their cuisine is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I also haven’t been to Europe–so I would pick Iceland for those reasons. The answer changes every month, but that is my answer right now.
Any pro tips or words of wisdom for living life on-the-go? Are there any special rules you follow or rituals you practice?
I always keep my room really clean so that when I come home from travel I have an immediately restful space. As soon as I get home from travel, I immediately unpack and do laundry. Having that out the way frees up my physical and mental space so I can rest up and get back to my normal routine faster. I have white noise downloaded for the plane so that I can easily sleep. When I’m planning my visits, I don’t schedule anything past 11 PM and nothing before 9 AM. This enables me to have some sort of a morning routine and gives me a better chance at getting decent sleep. I also don’t overschedule to reserve space for when things inevitably come up or when some of the things I’m involved in take longer than expected.
I will add that this is something I want to develop more in. I’ve been living this lifestyle for maybe a year, and I’m still figuring out what processes are most effective for me to perform well.
I’m going to ask you several questions in quick succession. You can limit your answers to no more than a few sentences.
What airline do you fly?
American Airlines, and I am a proud elite member.
Favorite city you’ve been to?
Car you drive?
I drive a silver 2018 Mazda 3. I fly to all of the chapters, except Indiana University, which is about a 4-hour drive.
Favorite podcast for the road?
I’ll occasionally throw on an episode of the Joe Rogan podcast.
State with the worst drivers?
State with the best natural scenery?
Favorite quote or life motto?
Recently, it’s Proverbs 25:2, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”
Top three favorite national cuisines?
In no particular order, Korean, Mediterranean, more specifically Middle Eastern, and probably Japanese.
What’s next on the itinerary for you, both as it relates to your work and private life?
The job I have is a two-year contract. In the meantime, I’ll continue to learn how to improve at my job and also in my personal life. There’s a strong correlation between personal growth and professional growth in the space that I’m in right now, which is pretty cool. I’m not making many plans outside of that. I’m not seeking a dating relationship or my next job right now. I’m just really focused on the present. I think next fall is when I’ll start considering more of the next steps for when I’m done with this phase of my life.