Olympic champion Victor Wild: If you want to learn Russian, St Petersburg University has the best programme
Victor Wild is a professional snowboarder and a Russian citizen of American origin. As a member of the Russian national team, he won five medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and one medal at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. At the moment, Mr Wild is enrolled in the St Petersburg University Preparatory Course because he wants to improve his Russian.
Victor, if you would, please say a few words about yourself.
I’m a professional athlete, and I like to ride my bike around St Petersburg in the summer. It’s already ten years since I became a Russian athlete, but I haven’t lived in Russia all that time. I’ve mainly lived in Europe, and it’s only in the last three years that I’ve lived here in Russia.
Why did you decide to study Russian at St Petersburg University?
I used to do a lot of my training in Europe, but then I decided to move to St Petersburg because for a long time I had wanted to see what it would be like to live here. And, for me, St Petersburg University was the best option for studying the language, so I signed up for the Preparatory Course as soon as I got here.
You’ve been in the programme for a year now. What are your impressions of it?
It’s fantastic, but, unfortunately, I haven’t been progressing anywhere near as quickly in the language as I had hoped. I can say, though, that this is absolutely the best programme for learning Russian of all the ones I have tried. The teaching system here is the best. I like it that I study right at the University. It provides a more favourable environment for learning the language. I really enjoy listening to the lectures that the professors give, asking all the questions that I have, and learning something new. It’s also important to me that we have exams that test how much we’ve learned. This way, I know that it’s serious and not just a joke.
Do you think there is any difference between the Russian and American systems of education?
I’m often asked this question, but I can’t say that there are all that many differences. Comparing my studies in the United States and here at St Petersburg University, I can’t come up with anything specific — especially when it has to do with teachers. For the most part, teachers in the US are academics, and it seems to me that it’s the same all over the world. But, then again, I could be wrong.
Russian is regarded as one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. Could you say something about your efforts to gain a command of it?
Yes, it’s a very difficult language. You need a large vocabulary, and everything is complicated by all the different endings. I didn’t use to be so motivated to learn Russian — of course, I tried, but I didn’t take it all that seriously. After living here for some time, though, and eventually deciding to stay, I realised that it was better to start learning the language late than never. I hope that there will come a day when I speak correctly, and I will be grateful to St Petersburg University for that. Right now, I’m just happy that I passed my exams and my friends say that my Russian is getting better and better.
How do you maintain the level of your language and improve it?
Actually, I plan on staying at St Petersburg University for another year, because I still don’t speak Russian very well. At the moment, I’m reading The Turkish Gambit, but it’s slow going. I’m trying to write out the new words so I can expand my vocabulary.
What do you like most about St Petersburg?
I’ve lived a lot of my life in big cities. St Petersburg is a perfect fit for me because it’s calmer here and there’s an unhurried atmosphere. Moscow is a dynamic and bustling city, and it’s good for work. But I was born in a small town in the US and prefer places that are laid-back and not so high-energy. In St Petersburg, I’ve gotten to know lots of creative people, musicians and artists who live outside the box. There are also plenty of cultured people here, and I’m really impressed by the way they live. I’ve always been caught up in sport, and where I come from, the people have different interests.
What opportunities has the University opened up for you?
I think that when I really learn how to speak Russian fluently, that will open up more opportunities for me in Russia. I can say for sure that knowing Russian has calmed me down. I’ve started to understand people more and maybe even to accept our cultural differences. Besides, I’m a Russian citizen and a Russian athlete, so I’ve decided to stay and to build my life here. There are more opportunities for me in Russia, and I need the language for everyday communication. I think it would have been a big blunder to move here and not try to learn it.