Nia Kos prepares to retire

by Kelsey Christianson

If wisdom comes from the marriage of knowledge and experience, then Nia Kos, professor of

Spanish, must be one of the wisest there is.

Kos was born in Ukraine. She has also lived in Germany, Argentina, Chicago, Colorado, Venezuela, San Francisco, Oklahoma and Indianola.

When Kos was 13 years old, her family immigrated to the United States.

“In Berlin in 1945, we almost didn’t survive the bombing,” Kos said.

They knew anything would be better than post-war Germany, so they waited the seven long years it took to get a visa.

They moved. And Kos couldn’t speak a word of English.

“The most difficult year of my life was the first year in the United States,” Kos said. “But after I learned the language, things really started looking up.”

Kos lived in a Ukrainian neighborhood in Chicago, which allowed her to celebrate her culture.

During this period in her life, she discovered her real love for literature and read many books in Spanish.

Kos attended college at the University of Illinois for two years and then transferred to Western State College of Colorado, where her mother had gotten a job. After graduation she went into the Peace Corps. She was stationed in Venezuela from 1964 to 1966.

After returning to the United States, Kos worked as a recruiter in San Francisco for a year and then took a job in Chicago for Who’s Who in America.

“I vividly recall one day, looking out the window, thinking, ‘This is not how I want to live my life,'” she said.

Kos knew spending eight-hour days in an office wasn’t what she wanted, but she didn’t know exactly what she did want.

She attended graduate school at the University of Oklahoma and finished in 1974.

Kos applied to teach Spanish at three schools, and Simpson hired her in 1976.

Many students enjoy Kos as a professor. Sophomore Amanda Mulholland, a Spanish major, has taken three classes with her.

“She’s very personable,” Mulholland said. “She’s down to earth, and she makes class fun and interesting.”

For Kos, the feeling is mutual.

“I’ve been able to teach many great, motivated students,” Kos said.

According to Kos, one of her most memorable moments undoubtedly occurred as she was growing and discovering who she was.

“The Peace Corps was honestly two of the most marvelous years of my life,” Kos said.

While stationed in a village in the Andes Mountains, Kos became good friends with a man she called Don Pablo.

“I actually taught him how to read,” Kos said. “They got a newspaper every six months, and he was so excited when he could finally understand it.”

Don Pablo gave Kos a baquiro, a pot-bellied pig, which became her pet. Kos said she had to go away for a while, and when she returned, she could not find her pig.

“Don Pablo ate it,” Kos said. “The idea of a pet in many other societies is not the idea of pets that we have. It took me awhile to accept the reality. I was heartbroken, and he couldn’t understand it.”

Kos will be retiring at the end of the spring term.

“It’s bittersweet,” Kos said. “I have a project that I want to complete.”

She plans to write a book about her lifelong love of Ukrainian embroidery.

“I want to work on it when I still have quite a bit of energy,” Kos said. “I know the time has come for me to retire.”

Kos has had an enjoyable experience at Simpson.

“I feel extremely lucky to work here,” Kos said. “My colleagues in the foreign language department were so helpful when I started, and we’ve become friends.”

Kos described teaching as swimming upstream, and she said the currents are becoming too strong.

“I felt like it’s time,” Kos said. “I’m not tired of teaching, and it’s not a lack of effort on my part. It’s just more difficult for me to motivate students. The older you get, the more generations that separate me from the students, it is harder to communicate with them.”

Though this is the next step for Kos, her students are sad to see her go.

“I’m sad to see her leave, but I’m glad to see her go and have more exciting adventures,” Mulholland said.

After moving around so much as a young girl, Kos finally has a place to call her home.

“When I think back, I feel that this is where my roots are,” Kos said. “I have lived in Indianola for 29 years. My son was born here. My friends are here. I really feel at home.”