Zhan Sarsenov ’21 (Kazakhstan) will study Civil Engineering at New York University, choosing the esteemed private research university over Boston University, Fordham University, Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University, King’s College London, SOAS University of London, Queen Mary University of London, and Royal Holloway.
Zhan spent five years at TASIS and was named to the Honor Roll each semester of High School. He speaks Kazakh, Russian, English, and Italian and took six Advanced Placement (AP) courses—Calculus, Statistics, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Art History and Italian Language and Culture—earning the College Board’s highest honor, AP Scholar with Distinction, for scoring a 3 or higher on at least five exams while compiling an average score of 3.50 or higher.
In addition to his academic successes, Zhan did some of his finest work outside the classroom. His strong leadership skills and many selfless contributions to the TASIS community gained the attention of his peers and teachers and led to many accolades, most notably the prestigious Michael Ulku-Steiner Leadership Award at the 2021 Commencement Ceremony. He was also elected Student Body Co-President his senior year, was selected by his classmates to deliver a speech at the 2021 Senior Banquet, won the J. Michael Horak Award as a junior for “providing inspiring service to the student body...and galvanizing the entire school into believing that what can be attempted can be completed,” and served as a dorm proctor for two years, earning the title of Head Proctor his senior year.
The 2020–2021 Male Athlete of the Year, Zhan is the first TASIS student to win the MVP Award for three different varsity teams—capturing the honor for swimming his junior year and for volleyball and golf his senior year. He also earned the Coach’s Award for golf as a sophomore and for volleyball as a junior, was selected as a captain for the swimming and golf teams, and went on to secure Pride Awards in both swimming and golf for demonstrating commitment and dedication to each sport for all four years of High School.
Shortly after graduating in May of 2021, Zhan answered the following questions about his time at TASIS The American School in Switzerland.
Do you feel that your time at TASIS has prepared you well for college?
TASIS prepared me for college in ways that I was not aware of. Sure, the rigorous AP Program that I did during my last two years will definitely help me with my studies at university, but there is something that TASIS gave me that I do not imagine learning somewhere else. TASIS taught me to push my boundaries, to really step out of my comfort zone, try new things, experience new adventures, meet new people, and ultimately be ready for life. For me, going to college is not only about pursuing your academics in your specific major area, it is about stepping into the real world, ready to achieve your ambitious goals. Through the Athletics Program, Service Learning Program, Proctorship Program, Student Council, Model United Nations, and Residential Life, TASIS gave me the skills and awareness that I will need as I go into the next adventure of my life.
In what ways did the College Counseling Office help you achieve your goals?
The college counselors definitely helped me complete my applications and expand my college search. I was lucky enough to get accepted into one of my top choices, so my final decision on picking a university to attend was not that difficult. Throughout my senior year, I was lucky to work with Johanna Fishbein—the Director of University and College Counseling at TASIS. I want to share my gratitude to her in this feature, as she helped me write my college essays and send out my applications, ultimately helping me land at one of my top university choices. Her kindness and genuine care are the two traits that I will remember for many years to come.
You received quite a few honors at TASIS, particularly over the course of your final two years. Are there any that are particularly meaningful to you?
I always considered myself more of an out-of-classroom student at TASIS—someone who focused on community life and sports. Of course I kept my grades up to a good standard, but I am more proud of the awards I received for commitment and excellence in sports and the community-driven awards: the J. Michael Horak Award and the Michael Ulku-Steiner Leadership Award.
What experiences have you found most inspiring at TASIS?
Being a part of such a wonderful community, I was always inspired to do better, to strive for something bigger and to give back to the community that has given me so much. It’s one big experience where I was a part of a community for five years, something that I have never felt before, that inspired me to become who I am now and take the actions I have taken. I was able to interact with the community through varsity sport teams, the proctor group, the Student Council group, and just being a part of the Residential Life Program. I often talk about the TASIS community and "credit TASIS with molding me into the exceptional young person I am today," but underneath what we simply call "the TASIS Community" lies hundreds of teachers, students, personale, and the staff. Those people just get thrown under the word community, but in reality it is to them that I am most thankful for, for inspiring me each and every day.
What courses or teachers will you remember most fondly?
I will undoubtedly remember all the teachers I worked with throughout my five years at TASIS. Every single one of them left a mark on me that I will make sure to carry for the rest of my life.
Out of the many teachers I was lucky to share a classroom with, I will remember Mr. Aeschliman, Mr. White, Mr. Lill, Mr. Yo, Mr. Carey, Mr. Dalton, Mr. Dudley, and Coach Shea most fondly.
Mr. A had me as an advisee for four years and also taught me architecture and AP Art History. In his classes and during our time in advisory, I could always feel the warmth and his genuine care toward me. He always wanted what was best for me and helped me achieve many of my goals by giving me his advice and just listening to me talk about my challenges or difficulties at the momentum which always ended up with laughs and joy. His last words to me upon graduation were, "Here is to a long friendship, Zhan," and whenever I think of them, instantly all the memories that were created in that architecture studio (his classroom) flash by in front of my eyes. Here is to a long friendship, Mr. A.
I will forever remember Mr. White's famous "let’s rock this jam" and all the other funny phrases he would say in class. It always made learning economics more fun and the classroom had its own unique atmosphere.
Being enrolled in Mr. Carey's AP Calculus class during my senior year made me regain my hope that learning and sitting in tables of one with plexiglass, where chit-chatting to friends during class was impossible, can be loads of fun. When entering his classroom, you would instantly want to laugh because of the jokes that Mr. Carey would always make while teaching a topic like calculus. He balanced fun and teaching so well that I don't think I will ever forget what it felt like laughing until I could no longer breathe while studying calculus—and all of that at 8:00 in the morning. Truly a special teacher with a gift.
Over in the Athletic Department, Mr. Yo and Coach Shea left their marks on my heart. I don't think I can imagine Mr. Yo being angry at anything. He always had a smile on his face, and walking past him on campus and giving him a fist bump was enough to fuel the rest of the day with positive energy. I met Coach Shea through volleyball and golf, and one thing I can say about him is that he taught me patience—a skill that I will forever credit him for. I was benched for the majority of my first season in volleyball, and as much as it hurt me not being on the court during the winning moments, he would always reassure me that my time would come if I kept working hard and hustling for every ball.
Mr. Dudley was my AP Statistics teacher and golf coach during my final year at TASIS. I will always remember walking on the golf course with him and talking, in between shots, about his experiences as a college student and life beyond and rarely talking about statistics and classwork. I remember the day in May where college decisions had come out and my parents and I were conflicted about which school would be the best for me to attend. Mr. Dudley said something along the lines of, “You are a wonderful person, Zhan, and I am sure you will find success wherever you go. Don't listen to anyone else—it is the next four years of YOUR life." I will forever remember those words and his optimism.
Mr. Lill, the Director of the Residential Life Program, is someone you initially fear when you come to TASIS as a boarding student. Everyone talks about him and how he didn't let them check out, travel, etc. My first encounter with him was in 8th grade, where he took away my phone for the day for checking the time. So, as I was entering high school, I fell prey to other students’ opinions about Mr. Lill. It was not until my junior year when I started my duties as a proctor that I discovered a different side of Mr. Lill—the side that leaves you wanting to take him with you to college and not say goodbye. When I say that I credit TASIS for making me the person I am today, it is mostly thanks to Tom Lill.
What do you think you will miss the most about your time at TASIS?
This is a question that I was tasked to answer for my Yearbook page, and I still can't answer it by giving specific things. Truth is, I will miss it all. I will miss the atmosphere of the campus, the goofy moments of dorm life, the hours spent in the classrooms, the van trips to the golf course or the swimming pool, the train rides with the varsity teams, the cold stone benches, the cheers of the Palestra bleachers, and many more aspects of TASIS life. Most importantly, I will miss the memories. I will miss the people that were a part of these memories.
Clearly dealing with a pandemic for your final three semesters isn't how you and your classmates wanted to end your time at TASIS. But is there anything positive you've been able to take away from all of this?
You learn to value your friendships, and you learn to value the people. Being forced to communicate less and to be less exposed to other people to protect yourself is not something we all wanted. The final three semesters of my TASIS life were...interesting. Many think that nothing good came of this pandemic, but in reality we all learned lessons that we would not have without this pandemic. We learned to adapt to situations, we learned new skills, and I think we all learned more about ourselves than ever due to the excessive time we spent alone. I believe that it only made us stronger as students or even as human beings. I, for example, discovered that I am terrible at keeping in touch with my friends when I don't see them for a long time, and now I know what to work on as we go into life beyond TASIS. For me it is crucial to keep the friendships I made here at TASIS alive.