Dr. Jose Alvarez knew he wanted to be a teacher from a young age.

“Because I am the oldest in my family,” he said. “As a child, I always tried to teach my brother and sister things.”

It is this love of teaching that brought Alvarez all the way from Columbia, South America, to Missouri Southern where he is a visiting assistant professor of Spanish.

Alvarez earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the National University of Columbia in 1981. After this, he spent six months living with the natives on the plains of Columbia and Venezuela.

“I learned all about their language, dance, food – everything,” he said.

In the early 1990s Alvarez and his wife took a trip to Miami, Florida, to visit her family. This was his first time in the United States. Little did he know he would soon find himself teaching Spanish at Florida International University in Miami. Not only was he holding a full-time teaching job and raising three sons, during his time at Florida International he earned his master’s degree in hispanic studies, and his Ph.D. in Spanish.

Teaching is an important part of his life, however there is much more to Alvarez than what he does in the classroom. He is an accomplished painter and author. Alvarez has written more than eight books of Spanish short stories that are available on his Web site for free.

“I don’t do it for the money,” he said. “I do it because I love to write. Sometimes when I read a story I close the book and know I have a better one.”

People are reading his stories, too. Alvarez’s books have been downloaded more than 70,000 times.

With all his success one might ask why Alvarez decided to come to Southern of all places.

“I interviewed for several universities,” he said. “But this one [Southern] because it is in the middle of the country and think of the international mission.”

It has not been a completely painless move from Florida, however. Alvarez’s wife and sons still live there.

“It’s not easy,” Alvarez said with a smile. “But I have a cell phone and I communicate probably more with my wife and kids now than when I lived there.”

As for getting to know his new town, Alvarez uses his anthropology skills when learning about Joplin.

“On weekends I like to go visit jail cells,” he said. “You can learn a lot about a town and its people from looking at their jail cells.”