ACE is an opportunity to step out into the world and see a different way of life. ACE participants begin to learn about the culture, environment, politics, and social issues of their host communities, though many find that they only scratch the surface of these large and complex topics during their three-week experiences. After working with children during ACE in South Africa and gaining exposure to some of the systemic challenges they face, Taylor Lallas, Stanford Women’s Tennis, knew she wanted to dive deeper into the interaction of policy, technology, and township economies in her host country. Taylor created an Action Plan focused on learning more about these complex issues through her studies back at Stanford.
Taylor originally planned to enroll in an independent study course that would explore the relationship between education policy and socio-economic inequality in South Africa. Though scheduling issues forced her to delay the independent study course for a year, her plan for relating her ACE experience and her academics has grown. Taylor is now planning an honors thesis based in part on what she learned and experienced in South Africa.
“I have honed my interests and I think that the delay will ultimately have helped me figure out exactly what I want to study. I am planning on double-majoring in Economics and Science, Technology, and Society (STS). My goal now is to write an honors thesis for STS that focuses on how technology is helping integrate formerly ‘informal’ businesses and the vast ‘informal economies’ in sub-Saharan Africa into e-commerce and broader consumer networks.”
She also hopes to return to South Africa to continue building her knowledge of these issues. “If I am truly going to study and understand informal economies, the best way to do that would be on the ground in South Africa again, rather than trying to learn through secondary sources.”
While continuing to educate herself on the policy-level issues that shape life in South Africa, Taylor has not lost sight of what it means to stay involved in direct service. Throughout the school year, she has regularly volunteered with Special Skaters, a branch of the organization Kids with Dreams, which provides athletic programs for kids affected by developmental disabilities.
“As a former figure skater, Special Skaters allows me to draw on both my past athletic experience and what I learned in South Africa. Just as we gained greater understanding of one another through rugby, netball, and soccer in South Africa, I have learned so much from all of the kids at Special Skaters just by skating with them.”
“My time on ACE helped me re-discover my passion for teaching and coaching kids. One aspect of my experience working with the kids in Nomzamo that helps me when I work with the kids at Special Skaters is learning how to communicate through various channels of expression. Sometimes the best mode of communication is non-verbal, and sports offer an easy way to connect people of different backgrounds.”
Taylor has found these skills learned in South Africa help her connect with the children at Special Skaters. “As a former figure skater, Special Skaters allows me to draw on both my past athletic experience and what I learned in South Africa. Just as we gained greater understanding of one another through rugby, netball, and soccer in South Africa, I have learned so much from all of the kids at Special Skaters just by skating with them.”
For Taylor, three weeks in South Africa was only the beginning of a deeper exploration of the complexities of developing economies. She brought her experiences of coaching kids and learning about local economies back to campus, and continues to further develop these competencies so that she can better understand and partner with the community that has taught her so much.