Nikita Pronkin


Nikita Pronkin

“A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves,” or so Willa Cather says in her 1913 novel “O Pioneers!” Although Nikita Pronkin, Colgate’s Fulbright Russian Language Assistant, bears little biographical resemblance to the homesteaders in Cather’s novel, he is a pioneer in his own right. 

Originally from Rostov-on-Don, a town about 700 kilometers from Sochi, Pronkin struck out for Hamilton after being awarded a Fulbright Teaching Assistant position in May of this year. 

“I searched the web and found out about this amazing opportunity,” Pronkin said. “I decided I wanted to apply, even though I’d never left my hometown. It’s always been my dream to work with university students and I knew this opportunity would allow me to do what I love and see a new part of the world.” 

Pronkin is unabashedly enthusiastic about his life in Hamilton. Although the lack of public transportation sometimes impedes his ability to explore the surrounding area, Pronkin is used to small town life. He actually wrote an article about Hamilton for his hometown’s newspaper. 

“In my life, I’ve lived in many different places,” Pronkin said. “I was born in Tajikistan and my family was forced to move back to a village in Russia during the Tajik Civil War, so I’m from the periphery. Because of this, I’ve always considered myself a flexible person and I generally find Hamilton comfortable.  It is a calm and silent place, a place to think and do sports. I like seeing people being active here.” 

Pronkin also spends time with the other language interns.

“On the first week of our orientation,” he said, “we celebrated one intern’s birthday in our flat together and cooked national dishes together. I’m not a good cook, so I made something simple.We sang happy birthday in our native languages. It was a very moving moment.” 

As for his experiences at Colgate, Pronkin emphasized the kindness of the Russian and Eurasian Studies department (REST). 

“The first thing I experienced here was kindness,” he said. “Professor Ian Helfant? I love him! He is the first person I met here in Hamilton. The same day, he invited me to dinner with his family. The whole Russian department is so warm and hospitable. I feel so grateful.” 

Pronkin is equally enthusiastic about his students. He lights up when asked about them, emphasizing the constructive learning environment fostered by the folks in the REST department. 

“We try to surround students with everything they need to know and do,” he said. “The Russian students are so creative and I’m so proud when they speak. When elementary Russian students start speaking and understanding it’s not as hard as many people think, I feel so proud. Our approach is individual, and we try to be so caring and careful with our students.” 

Pronkin’s pedagogical approach is best described by one of Cather’s characters in “O Pioneers!,” who says upon parting with a friend, “It’s by understanding me that you’ve helped me. I expect that is the only way one person ever really can help another.” 

Pronkin’s genuine interest in the success and comfort of his students is the foundation of his identity as an education and as a global citizen. Although his time on campus will be short, Pronkin’s love of “the idea of things,” and his willingness to share it with others, will be his lasting claim on Hamiltonian soil.