KOKOMO, Ind. — As a teenager in Colombia, J.R. Pico dreamed of seeing the world.
A degree in languages from Universidad del Atlántico opened the doors for him to travel. Since graduating, he’s visited 74 countries, been on every continent except Antarctica, performed humanitarian service in multiple countries, and become a highly-regarded faculty member at Indiana University Kokomo.
In August, his alma mater, in Barranquilla, Colombia, recognized his achievements, awarding him a certificate of excellence as the outstanding alumnus of 2019.
I felt very humbled and honored, because I was chosen from many good candidates,” said Pico, senior lecturer in Spanish. “I love my university so much, and want to thank everyone there for my education. If I hadn’t studied there, I would not be teaching in an American university at the level of Indiana University.”
Ceremony planners invited him to speak to students, and he talked to them about reaching for what seems too hard.
There’s nothing impossible if you work hard,” he said. “I had to work very hard to be where I am today. If you think something is impossible, but you work hard, you can achieve it.”
He also encouraged them to study what they love, and travel as much as possible.
Study what is in your heart. It’s not about how much money you’re going to make in the future,” he said. “Education and travel, those are the things that really belong to you. Your education is your treasure, and when you travel, you view the world from a different perspective. That is incredibly important.”
Pico noted his university has built a different campus than the one he graduated from in 1989, and it is much more like an American university. Because it is a public university, tuition was partially subsidized. He paid nominal tuition for his first semester, and then received a full scholarship because he was third in his class.
He chose to study languages for teaching, because it would allow him to travel. Spanish and Latin were required, and then each student selected three additional languages. Pico chose English because it is spoken all over the world, and then French and German. Students studied not only the language, but also the literature, the culture, pedagogy, and psychology for teaching.
It was difficult, because we were studying five languages at the same time,” he said. “There was no internet, no fancy phones to look anything up, no Google. We had the books in the library and the encyclopedia, and we made a lot of photocopies and took notes in class.”
The work paid off after he graduated and later moved to London, where he lived two years while earning a graduate certificate.
Most of the content, I already knew from my undergraduate work,” he said. “I felt very confident in my ability to participate in class. I could raise my hand and I knew what I was talking about.”
He taught English and French in Colombia for about a decade before he moved to the United States and became a Spanish teacher. He is proud to promote diversity, and to give students opportunities for travel — in particular on cultural and humanitarian trips to Colombia.
The students who have taken my trips come back completely changed,” he said. “Travel is a life-changing experience.”
Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.