The American School in SwitzerlandThe American School in Switzerland
Exceptional AP Student To Study History of Art at The Courtauld

Katya Panasenko (Russia) ’20 will pursue a History of Art degree at The Courtauld Institute of Art, selecting one of the world’s foremost specialist colleges over University College London (UCL) and University of York. She intends to pursue a career in art curation.

An accomplished artist who speaks English and Russian fluently and is proficient in French, Katya took six Advanced Placement (AP) classes over the course of her three semesters at TASIS: Art History, Studio Art, European History, Literature and Composition, Calculus, and Statistics. She posted an exceptional average score of 4.33 and earned the College Board’s highest honor, AP Scholar with Distinction.

Shortly after her graduation in May 2020, Katya provided extremely thoughtful answers to the following questions about her time at TASIS The American School in Switzerland.

Do you feel that your time at TASIS has prepared you well for college?
A lot of uncertainty and anxiety remains, of course. During these bizarre circumstances, one cannot help but wonder what will happen next and think about how to be prepared for the future. I was not at TASIS for very long; and when I did arrive, I already had a clear vision of what I wanted my remaining months of high school to look like. I came from a very different educational system (A-Levels & Pre-U), where one did not have to fulfill certain requirements in order to graduate—so my curriculum changed drastically, and I was once again taking subjects like English literature, something I thought I would never study again. I always saw myself as an architect or an engineer, and I therefore neglected essay subjects because I felt that I should be focusing on sciences and mathematics. 

But when I was changing schools last year, I realized that my true interest lies in art history. Coming to TASIS has prepared me for my field of study through thorough academic work. Also, TASIS helped me realize that I am not a bad writer, which I suppose is important for my future career as an art historian. I must give thanks to my teachers—in particular Mr. Aeschliman and Ms. Rosenberger, who, in my opinion, have prepared me the most. While Mr. Aeschliman continued to present me with an enormous variety of art, therefore expanding my knowledge of art history, Ms Rosenberger repeatedly challenged me academically, and I feel like her influence has improved my writing to a great extent. Taking AP courses gave me an understanding of the quality and quantity of the work expected in university as well as the work ethic.

Did the College Counseling Office influence your path and/or help you achieve your goals?
Mr. Stickley helped me greatly with my applications throughout these past months. I must confess I was very stressed in September, and meeting with him frequently helped me stay on track with everything and consequently relieved a lot of that pressure. I felt that he truly believed in my academic abilities (often in an unrealistic manner), and honestly, if someone told me in 2018 that I would be where I am today, I would have never believed them. I owe a lot to Mr. Stickley for his continuous support and for never neglecting me because I did AP instead of the IB Diploma Programme, which he was in charge of coordinating. 

At the beginning of the year, I could not take all of the AP subjects that I wanted because they did not fit into my timetable. The school timetable had periods where two AP classes were happening at once, and I could not be in two lessons at the same time. This caused a lot of nervousness because it meant that my application would not be strong enough for my desired universities, and I was also worried that my academic competence would be limited by the system. Nonetheless, Mr. Stickley helped me resolve this, and together with our AP Coordinator Ms. Venchus, we found a solution: with the permission of Mr. Dukes, I was to work on my AP Studio Art portfolio independently during the time when a regular drawing and painting class met, which allowed me to take AP Statistics in that AP Studio Art period. Overall, Mr. Stickley has continually supported me throughout this journey, and I am very, very thankful for all he has done for me.

What experiences have you found most inspiring at TASIS?
Inspiration is an intriguing and beautiful abstraction, and it can be found in anything. One of the reasons I find art history so compelling is because every artist, architect, and any sort of creator was or is inspired by something. I am inspired by knowledge, adherence, and talent. TASIS possesses plenty of that. Watching Ms. Rosenberger talk about Catch-22 inspired me to submerge myself in my chosen field of study with the same love and devotion as she exhibited continuously throughout the year. Seeing the excitement on Mr. Aeschliman's face when he announced that we would be attending an exhibition of Durer's work in Albertina in Vienna filled me with joy and enthusiasm, which is simply inexplicable. 

“If someone told me in 2018 that I would be where I am today, I would have never believed them.”

I think that throughout my time at TASIS I also noticed a slow but thorough destigmatization of scholarly achievements: a former censure repeatedly exhibited by the student body of the TASIS community. This drive to succeed is very important for the inspiration of all students in any given school. Knowledge is power, and as soon as everyone recognizes that, academic success will be colossal. When I arrived at TASIS, I took many 12th-grade classes while still in 11th grade, and I often felt discouraged to work hard purely because the reproach around the concept of “doing well at school” was sometimes visible among my peers. This year, however, I found myself among some students who were as driven as me and genuinely wanted to do well. This was perhaps the most inspiring experience because we continuously encouraged each other to triumph over new academic challenges. I sincerely hope that the future generations at TASIS will continue to exhibit similar patterns and soon the recent graduates' page will simply have no space because everyone will be included.

What courses or teachers will you remember most fondly?
Firstly, I think that I should mention Mr. Byers' Art History class, which I took last year in 11th grade. His unique approach to teaching through humor, stories, and peculiar videos is something that stuck with me. He is an extremely intelligent man, and I found his lessons to be fascinating. 

Secondly, art classes with Mr. Dukes are definitely something I will never forget. From my first day at TASIS, he has always been kind and supportive. When I was selecting an internship to do last summer, Mr. Dukes came up with a brilliant suggestion of sending me to Sotheby's—something I greatly enjoyed. He likewise was very understanding when I had a clash with two AP subjects that I wanted to take and allowed me to do AP Studio Art in a different period, something that put an additional burden on him but greatly helped me, and I am very thankful for that. Moreover, he made me feel welcome in the studio, and I could come any time after school or on the weekends to do my work. I will never forget my little art corner, where I practically lived during all of my free periods, doing both art and academic work. 

This year I also had the honor of being in Ms. Rosenberger's AP Literature and Composition class. Extremely challenging, and definitely the most demanding, this course remained one of my favorites throughout the year. Ms. Rosenberger is one of the most passionate teachers I have ever had. She presented the material with humor and wisdom, and her love for what she does continued to astound me over and over again. I never thought that I could do well on my AP English exam, but her lessons made the whole class and me feel secure and prepared. 

Moreover, I witnessed and was part of something very unusual this year; I took AP European History with 10th graders, with Mr. Kirsch being the party leader. My chosen field of study in university demanded a challenging history class, and AP Euro was something that fit that requirement very well. For the last nine months, I enjoyed watching the effects of my inadvertent influence on the rogueness of 10th graders. Mr. Kirsch and I had our laughs throughout the course, both because of my stupidity and the stupidity of my comrades. This class was as insightful as it was humorous, and I feel that despite all the jokes, it gave me a solid background on the history of Europe that will definitely help me in university. I am thankful to Mr. Kirsch for his patience, and for resisting my frequent scandalous behaviour that was necessary to bring composure to the class (something both of us can agree on). Mr. Kirsch has been very understanding of the AP pressure that was exerted on me throughout the year. He allowed me to prioritize different tasks and trusted in my maturity and competence, therefore helping me succeed on the exam. 

Lastly, I owe my gratitude to Mr. Aeschliman, who I had as my AP Art History teacher this year. I am not sure where to start. This man never missed an opportunity to excite me about my chosen field of study. I will never forget his lessons and his numerous attempts to make art exciting for people who were not that excited about it. Mr. Aeschliman is one of the most fascinating people I know. Conversations with him made me feel senseless and enlightened simultaneously. He never failed to recommend a book, a film, or a podcast, all of which I enjoyed to an enormous extent. I will always remember shaking his hand when I got my offer from the Courtauld, and I hope I make him proud one day, so he feels as pleased to call me his student as I do calling him my teacher. 

What do you think you will miss the most about your time at TASIS?
The Art Department and its inhabitants are something that will stay with me forever. The students who populated the Şahenk Fine Arts Center became my closest friends at TASIS, and I will miss them greatly. Likewise, I will miss having coffee with Mr. Dukes and discussing the most obscure and peculiar topics known to man. Next door, rants about Jeff Koons and the changes in the AP Art History curriculum with Mr. Aeschliman are something I will never be able to forget. The Academic Travel trips I had the honor of attending would not have been as great without the accompanying teachers, whose love and finesse for what they do as well as their intellect and temperament continuously brought me knowledge and happiness during the school year. 

Clearly this wasn't the way you and your classmates wanted to end your time at TASIS, but is there anything positive you can take away from this very difficult spring?
I think that this experience has demonstrated the values of everyone who goes to our school. Education in an environment that is not controlled is very different from the one in the classroom. Distance learning has exhibited the principles of every student and teacher at TASIS. I know that many of my peers worked extremely hard in these last months, especially those taking AP exams, which were not canceled, as opposed to those of the IB. The pandemic has shown the true drive within us; and, I suppose it also demonstrated our abilities to work independently from the educational body. While many of my teachers tried to help us prepare for the exams, a lot of the work had to be done on our own. I truly believe that everyone who continued to work hard throughout the distance learning, despite being a senior, and despite having already earned a place in the university, deserves a lot of recognition. Throughout all of this, many of us had to quickly adapt to new changes in the syllabi and in the testing policies, often without detailed explanations from the teachers. Those who managed to do so demonstrated an extreme ambition for learning and succeeding in their chosen areas. 


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