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This year marks five years of ACE programming. We’re celebrating by looking back at our first year programs, reflecting with our first year participants on what ACE has meant to them, and learning what our ACE alums are up to now.

This week we interviewed Class of 2018 Stanford graduate, Women’s Swimming and Diving team member and ACE in India ’16 alum, Samantha Gallagher. She shares how ACE ignited her passion for women’s rights and remembers favorite memories while teaching with other ACE athletes.

What are you doing now? How did ACE influence your academic or career path?

Currently I work in legal and compliance for a Health IT Company based in San Francisco, CA. I am planning on applying to law school for admission to the fall 2021 class. When I returned home from India, I had a deeper interest in human rights, and more specifically working for women’s rights around the world. My time in India gave me a better understanding and appreciation for the opportunities that had been afforded to me as a woman in the United States, and a desire to make an impact in the form of improved access to opportunity and safety for women all over the world.

Following law school, I plan to work in some capacity to prosecute those who subject women and children to sex trafficking in the United States and across international borders. The issue of sex trafficking was brought to my attention during my time in India, not through the specific work I was doing there, but merely by chance. Someone had mentioned how for many young women in India sex trafficking is a reality.

While in Delhi I began doing research and learning of the appalling rates of sex trafficking not only in places like India, but also in places such as the United States. In India, I began to understand how prevalent and serious sex trafficking is. It wasn’t until my time in India that I identified a serious injustice in the world that I felt so strongly about ending. 

What was the most meaningful part of your ACE experience?

It may sound incredibly cliche, but ACE really did change my life. I walked away from that experience and the children we were serving with a completely different perspective and outlook on life, and as a different person. The lens through which I saw reality was shattered. My experiences infused in me a desire to really make a difference, because I was forced to come to terms with some challenging truths.

“The memories of our sessions teaching English together still make me laugh when I reminisce.”

The children we worked with were by far the best part of the entire trip. Their passion for learning, their desire to better understand “the Americans,” and their bewilderment at anything seemingly foreign made every day of teaching an absolute gift. We danced with them, we played soccer, we instructed them in English, and together we merged two worlds into one. 

woman hugging many schoolchildren

Share a story during your ACE experience that changed the way you now think about something.

During my time at ACE, my teaching partner was a student-athlete from Duke named Michelle. Michelle was fierce and fabulous and took no nonsense from anyone. She lit up a room the second she walked in. She was loud, but in the absolute best way, and she could make our entire class laugh at a moments notice.

The memories of our sessions teaching English together still make me laugh when I reminisce. Our students would always look at us with absolute bewilderment when we were first introduced in a class. Michelle, a young black woman, had beautiful thick braids. I, at the time, had long blonde hair. Our Indian students claimed they had never seen two girls with hair like ours. A few of the young girls came up to me and asked if they could touch our hair. Some even told me I had “Barbie” hair.

Moments like these reminded me that regardless of where you are in the world, or who you’re with, children are still children at the end of the day. They are curious, and innocent, and joyful. Teaching in India with Michelle was an absolute pleasure. 

“ACE gives you what you are willing to give to the program.”

Describe your ACE experience in as few words as possible.

Life changing, an absolute pleasure

What’s one thing you want people to know about ACE?

The program gives you what you are willing to give to the program.

What’s your hope for the ACE program and advice for future participants as we look ahead to the next five years?

I hope to see ACE add more program sites!