"I’m happy I’ve taken these trips and have had many learning experiences in the world, with other people."
Ken Budd, BA ’88 and MA ’97, English, author of the critically-acclaimed travel memoir, The Voluntourist: A Six-Country Tale of Love, Loss, Fatherhood, Fate, and Singing Bon Jovi in Bethlehem, found that helping citizens around the world has helped him live “a life that matters.” In his book and now, in Arlington, Va., Budd is sharing his journey.
As part of the 2012 Fall for the Book Festival, Budd will discuss The Voluntourist on Wednesday, Sept. 26 at the Shirlington Branch Library in Arlington, from 7:30-9:00 p.m. The event is free to attend and open to the public.
Budd, executive editor of AARP The Magazine, took his first steps in voluntourism several years ago. Closely following the unexpected death of his father in 2005, a philanthropic organization associated with AARP sought volunteers to help rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Budd accepted the challenge.
“I never directly looked for volunteering opportunities abroad,” he said. “I was just looking to do some little thing in the world. I got an email about volunteering in New Orleans. Without really thinking about it, I just did it. And that’s kind of how it started.”
After New Orleans, Budd volunteered to work in Costa Rica, then went on to China, Ecuador, Kenya and the West Bank. As he helped residents of these countries with a variety of tasks, he found a sense of fulfillment within himself.
“One of the great things about travel in general is that pulls you from what’s familiar, and you learn to see things differently,” he said. “It tests you, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself.”
At first, Budd did not consider memoir writing to fit his personality. But after writing about the Costa Rica experience for AARP The Magazine, he thought that compiling the experiences from future trips could be the basis for a great book. His editor at HarperCollins took a "leap of faith that something would happen," and the memoir was born.
“I’m happy I’ve taken these trips and have had many learning experiences in the world, with other people,” he said. “The book has really made me think about my relationship with my father. One woman who read the book spoke with me about the [idea of] legacy. Overall, the book has been a really great experience.”
An active alumnus, Budd recalls that his own experiences as a student shaped his life.
“Erika Jacobs was the first person who made me think I could be a writer, because she was very encouraging,” Budd said. “And I remember Alan Cheuse’s class very clearly, because he was demanding. I was shaped by my professors’ guidance and encouragement.”
Budd stays connected to Mason, visiting campus frequently and riding his bike to and through campus. He has been a men’s basketball season ticket holder “for eons,” and he is a member of both the English Alumni Society and the Mason Libraries Advisory Board.
After his presentation in Arlington on Wednesday, Budd will be on the Fairfax campus on Thursday for an interview with C-SPAN. “It is my first time participating in Fall for the Book,” he said. “You really connect with people when you talk about the books. It’s fun meeting readers. It’s been a great thing to make these connections with people. And it’s 10 or 15 minutes from my house. It’s amazing.”
The same might be said about him.