Finding peace in difficult times from Olivet Spanish professor

Wisdom and insights from Dr. Johana Barrero, assistant professor in Olivet’s Department of Modern Languages

February 27, 2018 Uncategorized

From a very young age, I was fascinated by languages. I am the kind of person who always wonders about the meaning behind the words that we use. My mind cannot rest until I understand perfectly the reason each word exists, from where its roots come. I search for the ways in which these words can come to mean more than their definition, how the same word can express or signify something completely different from one country to another. 

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I have had very little clarity in my life, but one thing I have always been certain of is my passion and my profound desire to teach my language and my culture to those who would learn. I am a Spanish teacher; that is my job — but more than that, it is my way of life. Teaching Spanish is what truly defines me because, in doing it, I not only teach the beauty and the richness of my own language. I also share with my students my story, my life and the road I have had to travel to arrive at this point in my life. 

On the first day of every class I teach, I tell my students several things: my first and last name, my origin and my nationality. I tell them that I am a Colombian, from one of the most wonderful and exotic countries in the world, and that I am very proud to be Colombian. It seems to me that by mentioning this, I can give an excuse for my unique accent. More than this, however, I feel better when I am able to say freely that I am an immigrant, that I have lived in this country for 11 years, and that I give thanks to God every day of my life for His blessings. I thank Him for giving me the opportunity to be free, to be safe, to be without fear; but above all, I thank Him that I am able to have an open, sincere relationship with Him. 

I grew up in one of the most violent countries in the world, living in one of the most dangerous cities in the 1980s. The members of my family were kidnapping victims in 1998. Since then, my relatives and I have had to take refuge in various locations — not only to be safe, but also to be able to have a better education and improved quality of life. 

I immigrated to this country and, since then, I have not stopped working and studying for a single day. Neither have I ceased to receive the love of many who have become like family to me. In this country, God found me, and I accepted His call on my life. I learned to forgive. I learned to understand that my past is part of my personal story. Today, I am able to speak freely about my history. 

When I am teaching my classes, I feel fulfilled and satisfied. It is incredible to see that my students are learning Spanish because they want to and not only because it is a good skill to have or because it looks good on a résumé. I can confirm every day that many of them are in my classes because they want to learn another language for a purpose: to bring the kingdom of God to other places. 

Many of them understand that one of the best ways to share the Word of God and the love of God is to speak the same language as the people in other communities. Many of my students have immigrated to other countries in Latin America as missionaries to Spanish-speaking nations and are now sharing a small piece of heaven here on earth. 

Little by little, I understand more why God has given me this love of languages. I see more of why He opened so many doors for my family and me. He already knew the impact we would have on the lives of people in this country. 


Dr. Johana Barrero joined Olivet’s full-time faculty in 2014. With her extensive knowledge in the areas of Latin American literature, she teaches courses in Latin American literature, Peninsular literature, and Spanish translation and interpretation. As a native Spanish speaker from Colombia, South America, she also teaches all levels of Spanish, and Spanish culture and civilization. One of her special interests is studying the indigenous communities in Latin America and around the world. She and her husband, Fabian Romero, are the parents of two smiling, outgoing, imaginative daughters named Camila and Ana. Fabian is an IT software engineer with IBM in Chicago.


This article originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of Olivet The Magazine.

Student on main campus wearing pink sweater and holding water bottle.

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