Other people say hi. Hello. What’s up? How’ve you been? Howdy. Hola. Austin Bodetti’s one-liner: “Hey, can I have your email address?”
Throughout the span of his freshman year, Austin collected over 1,100 email addresses and a band of loyal followers to his digital newsletter, “Laustin: Lost with the Last Austin.”
The weekly emails cover all things relating to the Middle East and the Islamic World, and they are strategically peppered with what Austin describes as, “jokes about my life and my awkwardness, and how I deal with it,” to keep people reading.
Most people cringe at the idea of so boldly approaching absolute strangers, and Austin admits there is “a little bit of awkwardness because people aren’t expecting it. On the other hand, you’re going to have a lot of trouble if you’re just hoping word of mouth will help.”
But word of mouth has helped tremendously. Some of Austin’s most loyal followers are the parents of Boston College students who read his newsletter so voraciously that on one occasion, a student approached Austin to tell him, My mom really wanted to get your email this week and she didn’t. “I’m never entirely sure what to make of that,” he says with comical pensiveness.
On another occasion, Austin received an email from a subscriber who reported, My girlfriend and I have been enjoying reading your emails for weeks. We bond over them every Thursday night.
While on the one hand this tidal wave of positive feedback is encouraging, Austin confesses, “Sometimes I feel people only value me for my emails, which is bizarre when the email list is named after you.”
When he audaciously tried asking a certain lady-subscriber out to lunch via email, “She never responded to the request…” he said, pausing for comic relief. Perhaps digital celebrity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
But, Austin is far from just a quirky personality with the boldness to panhandle for email addresses. Aside from all the time he spends on the ground using his charisma to publicize his newsletter, Austin devotes countless hours each week to researching, writing and copy editing his emails; in the enterprise that is Laustin, the founding man fills every role.
Since Austin serves as many people’s primary source on world news, it’s only natural to ask where he gathers his own encyclopedic knowledge of current Islamic affairs.
The answer: Google News. Austin considers it to be “the best portal for getting a variety of all different sources,”–anything from the New York Times to the Sudan Tribune.
“If you’re looking for more obscure subjects, you’re going to have to do a little digging,” says Austin. “That’s the nice thing about Google News.” It embodies the streamlined convenience of Reddit, but the breadth of its coverage is unlimited by what readers consider likable enough to upvote.
In addition to reading articles on the Internet and attending classes at BC for his Islamic Civilization and Societies major, Austin spent two months this past summer traveling throughout Burma, Indonesia and Thailand conducting his own research on Islam’s role in global politics and humanitarian crises.
Austin’s philosophy is, “If you want do groundbreaking research on a place, you have to go there–within reason of course.” He concludes with certainty: “I couldn’t have found out what I wanted to without seeing the situation.”
The “situation” he speaks of is the tumultuous conflict between Muslims in Indonesia, where they constitute a majority, and the violent persecution of Muslims in Islamic-minority Burma and Thailand, where Muslims are often sequestered in prison camps.
The south of Thailand is currently an active conflict zone, so military checkpoints, police and soldiers throughout the region made traveling as a young, sole American an intimidating venture by any standards. With translators and local guides aiding him throughout his journey, Austin was able to conduct his research and stay out of harm’s way.
In order in to truly understand a conflict or humanitarian crisis like those going on in the Islamic world, Austin believes you have to “speak with participants in the conflict, go to the place or ideally do both.” This is exactly what he hopes to do full-time one day as a professional journalist.
“Freelancing is very tempting because you can write whatever you want,” he says, “but there needs to be a market for what you’re writing.” Fortunately for Austin, there is no shortage of newsworthy events in the realm of the Islamic world; in fact, he already has a paid position writing articles on just that for the political blog “War Is Boring.”
So, what could be next for someone who has already proven himself as both a skilled international researcher and a paid journalist, all by the age of 19?
In his sophomore year at BC, Austin is eager to connect what he witnessed this summer in his time abroad with the grand political theories he learns in his Islamic Civilization classes: “I’ve seen it, now let me go to the classes to explain it.”
As for traveling, Austin has his passport poised for a trip to Sudan this coming summer. The country is one of the most violent places in the Muslim world, so “if you’re looking for a conflict zone to try and help,” he explains with a quiet determination, “Darfur is a very good place to start.”
In between traveling for research, writing and studying, Austin still finds the time to write up his characteristic “Laustin” dispatches. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to subscribe, or don’t be surprised when someone approaches you in the dining hall and asks, “Hey, can I have your email address?”