Sophie Zane pursued a double major, wrote a departmental honors thesis and — in true Bruin fashion — volunteered for several social justice organizations during her undergraduate studies.
Sophie Zane graduates this June with a double major in international development studies and European languages and transcultural studies. The senior, who is fluent in French and taught herself German, hopes to complete a joint international relations/J.D. graduate degree in the future. (Photo: Peggy McInerny.)
“Don't just take what fits with your schedule, take classes that you are genuinely interested in. And talk to your professors and TAs. It's fascinating to see how many life paths, how many viable options there are in life.”
By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications
UCLA International Institute, June 13, 2023 — Growing up in a family where volunteering was the norm, Sophie Zane (UCLA 2023) early developed a mindset that “if you care about a problem and you’re not doing anything to solve it, then you become part of the problem.”
The Bruin senior did a wide variety of volunteer work throughout her childhood, including volunteering at food pantries, participating in beach cleanups and environmental restoration projects and organizing events for victims of domestic violence. She also began learning French at a young age, courtesy of a neighbor who was a retired French teacher and has since become like her “third grandma” and close friend.
Small wonder that when Zane arrived at UCLA — her dream school since seventh grade — she eventually chose a double major in international development studies (IDS) and European Languages and Transcultural Studies (ELTS), with a French and Francophone emphasis.
Because an AP exam placed her out of the first six levels of French language classes at UCLA, she was able to dive directly into courses where the lectures, curriculum and papers were all in French. She ended up taking two literature courses with professor and novelist Alain Mabanckou of ELTS, as well as a course on French translation with Professor Dominic Thomas. “It was definitely fun to read full-length novels in another language. It was the first time I had ever done that and I felt proud of myself,” she says.
She particularly enjoyed Mabanckou’s course, Literature and Child Soldiers in Sub-Saharan Africa, which she described as “an African geopolitics class that combined a theoretical background, socio-historical and political elements and literature, with the literature putting a human face to all of that. It was a really intense class, but very interesting.”
Zane found her way to the IDS program by way of global studies (both programs are offered by the UCLA International Institute). “I really enjoyed my global studies courses, but all the extra reading that I was doing and the things that I was super excited about related to international development,” she says.
The IDS program offered her the flexibility to take courses in multiple disciplines, allowing her to take several geography courses and develop a kind of regional specialization in Africa and the Middle East.
Among her favorite IDS classes were Culture, Power and Development with Professor Jennifer Jihye Chun, chair of the IDS program (“she was amazing”), and her senior capstone seminar with Professor Kevan Harris, which she actually took in her junior year.
“I don’t think I had ever been pushed that hard in my academic career, but it was good for me,” she says of the capstone seminar with Harris, which required students to distill 100 pages of reading into a two-page summary every week. “That’s a lot to condense, but it made me really good at identifying arguments.”
Harris later became Zane’s adviser on her departmental honors thesis, in which she investigates refugee rights in three countries considered to have some of the most progressive laws on refugees: Uganda, Türkiye and Germany.
“They supposedly have the best refugee laws on paper, but I am looking at the socioeconomic outcomes of refugees and asking, ‘Why are the laws so good, but there are still such high levels of poverty, unemployment and income disparities among refugees in those countries?’”
Zane has spent the past year doing research for her thesis. She has genuinely enjoyed the process, some of which entailed reading source documents in the original German (which she taught herself while at UCLA). “Never thought I would need to know the phrases ‘cross-sectional model’ or ‘raw materials production,’” she quips.
Professor Harris continued to provide a steady stream of recommendations on research materials. “He’s been awesome,” says the UCLA senior. “Once he recommended a new book that had been published only a couple of months before, saying it would really help me. So I read the entire book and thought, ‘Wow, I need to change the whole theoretical framework.’ It’s been really cool to be on the cutting edge of new research.”
She presented her paper at UCLA Undergraduate Research Week in May and took pride in her work. “I felt I actually did something, that I had something to say and had come up with original research.” And in early June, she received one of two Academic Awards conferred by the UCLA International Institute for her research and exemplary academic performance.
In parallel with her studies, Zane has also been very active in social justice causes while a Bruin. Her freshman year coincided with the advent of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The freshman responded by volunteering in the LA offices of the U.S. Movement for Trust, Racial Healing and Transformation (USTRHT) and doing an internship with the LA-based Center for Policing Equity. She did both in 2021, when everything remained online due to COVID-19 precautions.
“I feel like those times really pushed me to understand what we’ve done in this country as far as crimes against Indigenous, Black and Brown people, and to be more cognizant of that in education,” she says.
Zane went on to volunteer for JusticeCorps at the Los Angeles County Superior Court in Pasadena throughout the 2021–22 academic year, putting in over 300 hours of service after receiving some 50 hours of training.
“People who come to JusticeCorps represent themselves in court, mostly because they cannot afford legal help. The gap between those who need help and who can get it — who can pay for it — is disturbingly wide,” she comments.
“Litigants would come in and talk to me about their cases and I would help them fill out paperwork for court, specifically, forms for things like divorce, establishment of paternity and evictions. I was working during the thick of the time when Covid-19 protections against eviction were ending, so sometimes the timelines were very pressing.” (All the paperwork she completed was checked by actual lawyers before being submitted to the court.)
Although she has done research and policy outreach for both social justice and consulting firms, Zane remains most proud of her work for JusticeCorps. “I find that I like working with actual people best, because it feels like you have more of a direct impact.”
Zane’s intellectual interests and activism coalesce in her next goal: to earn a dual international relations/J.D. degree and, hopefully, work in human rights. First, however, she hopes to work for a year in a job that really interests her while she prepares applications for graduate school.
She counsels incoming Bruins to take classes in a broad range of subjects: “You never know. Maybe you’ll happen to take a random geography class and realize, ‘Oh, this is what I really want to do!’
“Don’t just take what fits with your schedule, take classes that you are genuinely interested in. And talk to your professors and TAs. It’s fascinating to see how many life paths, how many viable options there are in life.”
Published: Tuesday, June 13, 2023