Student Interview with Ronald Knox – Living in Russia in the «несовершенный вид»
30 August, 2019
A seasoned traveller and no stranger to the streets of St Petersburg, Ronald Knox, from Philadelphia, has just completed three weeks at Liden and Denz. As part of his travels this year, Ronald decided to pay St Petersburg a visit. Despite being caught out by the capricious St Petersburg weather, Ronald thoroughly enjoyed his time here.
I met with Ronald for a chat just after he had received his certificate from Liden and Denz. Ronald is a skilled linguist who knows French, German, Italian, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, but was missing a Slavic language to add to this long list. He started learning Russian many years ago, and has continued ever since, making excellent progress.
Ronald first came to St Petersburg in 1973, when the city was still Leningrad. Ronald remarked that St Petersburg has changed since this time – not least because of the advertising – instead of adverts for H&M, there were billboards declaring «Без эксплуатации человека человеком!» It was very difficult at that time to enter the Soviet Union, yet Ronald’s family friend was Joseph Dobbs – the leading Soviet specialist at the British Embassy in Moscow – and Ronald was able to receive an invitation and a fairly smooth entry into the country. One of the many stories he has from this trip is going to see Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow. Despite the queue being a literal day long, Ronald was with Dobbs’ son, Michael, and the two of them were swept to the front of the queue. When describing the atmosphere of the mausoleum, Ronald explained how it was treated almost as a “holy place”.
Ronald’s first visit to Russia in the 2000’s was to watch the parade in Moscow marking the 70th anniversary of Second World War victory. During this trip, he made the decision to return to keep coming back, and to start attending Russian classes. Ronald discovered Liden and Denz, and a few years later, ended up in St Petersburg again!
Whilst here, Ronald enjoyed many of St Petersburg’s sights, visiting the State Hermitage four times, as well as the Russian Museum, St Isaac’s Cathedral and the General Staff. Ronald particularly likes the Russian Museum as it contains the world’s largest collection of Russian art in the country, and he would recommend it to other students as one of the highlights of the city. Ronald’s favourite haunts during his stay were the «Счастье» restaurant on Rubenstein Street, or the Julia Child Bistrot on Grazhdanskaia Street, both of which he recommends.
Ronald didn’t just spend time in the city centre, but ventured further afield to Staraya Ladoga, a small ancient town near Lake Ladoga. As Ronald explained to me, Staraya Ladoga was one of the earliest permanent settlements of Kievan Rus, and therefore an important post for the fur and silver trade between Kievan Rus, Asia and the Middle East. During the four days that Ronald spent in Staraya Ladoga, the town’s annual festival was taking place, and Ronald happened upon a camel in this small Russian town. Whilst some might think that a camel in Russia would be a strange sight (myself included!), Ronald explained that, in fact, camel bones were discovered in the town, because of its history as a trade post. I will certainly be adding Staraya Ladoga to my list of places to visit.
Ronald’s description of his experience learning the Russian language was particularly insightful. Until very recently, Ronald had never studied Russian in a classroom environment. Unlike many students who study Russian for university, for exams, or for work. In his own words, he studies “for the process rather than the result”, for himself rather than to progress towards a certain goal.
Clearly attentive in his grammar lessons, Ronald described himself as “living in Russia in the «несовершенный вид»”, which is a phrase I will adapt for my own life! (For those unfamiliar with Russian grammar, the “несовершенный вид” (imperfective aspect) denotes an action performed as a process, rather than for a specific end.)
He finds the Russian language very interesting to learn every step of the way, and when he observes the little things, such as the makeup or etymology of words, he sees how the language really comes together. His language proficiency comes as much from his daily experience in Russia as it does from his presence in the classroom.
Ronald enjoyed his time at Liden and Denz this summer. He found his teacher very engaging and instructive, was happy with the class sizes, liked the adaptability of the classes and how accommodating the school is for students’ needs. Not only has he made significant progress during his time at Liden and Denz, but he certainly intends to continue learning Russian, and maybe even return to Liden and Denz in the future!
Thank you, Ronald, for sharing your experiences with me, and I’m very glad you found Liden and Denz to be an enjoyable and useful experience, and that you had yet another enjoyable time in St Petersburg! До свидания и счастливого пути!