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Local scholar uses language to enrich lives

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During his freshman year at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Ben Woodland worked as a tutor. With the help of one of his friends, the Soldotna native was able to successfully tutor a Tibetan monk for his United States Citizenship test.

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“He didn’t really know how to read and write,” Woodland said.

After seeing the monk pass his test, Woodland felt something click.

“That was when I knew what I really wanted to do,” he said. “Use language to better people’s lives.”

Language.

It’s Woodland’s passion — which can be seen by the laundry list in his repertoire. He is fluent in German and has studied Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Latin, Dutch, Korean and French.

“By study — I know what I’d need to have a vacation and get around,” Woodland said.

Now a senior, Woodland’s love for language and passion to help others put him on the fast track for the District 5010 2012-2013 Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, which he was awarded last September. The district covers Alaska, Yukon Territory and Eastern Russia. Woodland is one of two recipients from the district with the other coming from Russia.

“I was freaking out and I called my parents,” he said. “I was just so surprised that I got it. It’s a huge scholarship.

“I had never felt like that in my life, it was that exciting for me.”

The scholarship will take Woodland, 21, to Bavaria, Germany in the fall of 2012 where he will study African languages at the Universität Bayreuth for one year.

“The whole reason I’m studying African languages there is to hopefully, in a way, guarantee when I join the Peace Corps in a few years — I’ll be (placed) in Africa,” Woodland said.

A stipulation of the scholarship is that Woodland must complete a community service project during the time of his studies. Woodland welcomed the project, as a way to build on his education he is currently receiving at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is majoring in German and international studies, with a minor in history.

“I basically want to teach Turkish immigrants German while I’m there,” Woodland said. “Because that’s (Germany’s) largest minority group — and it’s a big problem that they don’t speak the language. It’s hard to become integrated into society.”

Woodland’s senior thesis centers around the Turkish immigrant’s experience through German literature, which is where the inspiration for his project came from. Woodland said he plans to seek help from Turkish students and rotary members in Germany to help him reach out.

“(The university) has a Turkish student union and (I hope to work with) local rotary clubs,” he said. “I’m hoping to use those students as a bridge and local Rotarians to have a volunteer to help me teach.”

Woodland said he’s worked as a German tutor at UAA since his sophomore year, so he will have experience teaching the language. The same principles he used to teach German in America will apply when he teaches Turkish immigrants German.

“What I really like is when someone realizes, ‘Oh, it’s just about doing the work,’” he said. “We take for granted how easy speaking is, but we don’t think about how long we took to learn those words.

“So I think just getting it, as far as people who speak one language, getting it into their mind that it’s not hard to learn a language.”

Woodland will be tasked with balancing his own studies with the community project required by his scholarship, while also finding time to enjoy another country and its culture. This concept is nothing new — he currently works about 20 hours a week on top of 18 credits, and being a resident advisor in his dorm.

“You just have to make time,” he said. “You find something that you were doing before that you don’t need to be doing. Sometimes that means you don’t sleep as much.”

Woodland studied abroad in Germany as part of the Rotary Exchange Program while he was in high school, and has worked diligently to return.

“It’s been a dream to go back,” he said. “The fact that (the Rotary) wanted to invest their money in me was pretty cool.”

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