Gina Lorenz tends to live life in pairs. She’s a musician (sings and plays piano) but is also a music theorist. She absolutely loves, and has lived in New York City, but currently lives in, and loves Los Angeles. A graduate student in UCLA’s French and Francophone Studies Department since 2013, Gina is also learning to speak Arabic as a third language.
To call her curious, and ambitious, is an understatement as Gina, like many graduate students here at UCLA, chose her degree of study because she knew it would surely lead to fantastic discoveries and revelations – to moments of clarity brought on by embracing vulnerability.
That’s not to say that she didn’t think it all out first.
SUNFLOWERS TO SUNSHINE
UCLA was not a coincidence in Gina’s life. Raised by academic parents in the idyllic college town of Lawrence, Kansas, Gina loved her family (and Kansas) far too much to leave her hometown after high school. So she decided to stay and earn degrees in French and in Music Theory at the University of Kansas while teaching piano lessons on the side. Gina caught both a travel and cultural bug during a French study abroad stint in 2007, and afterwards, as she puts it, “I wanted a taste of the wider world, to do something by myself.” Enter TAPIF, an ESL program that placed Gina in Strasbourg, France, in order to teach secondary students after she graduated from KU.
This immersion of language, and teaching, in France eventually led her back to the States when, in 2010, Gina entered the French studies program at NYU, at which time she was also working at a French magazine. It was a life in tandem.
Then tragedy struck. Her mother suffered a traumatic brain injury, and Gina dropped everything to be back in Kansas. She did the right thing.
“I don’t think I really became an adult until that happened. You can make lists and charts until the cows come home, but life will still test you in unpredictable ways. I’m just so grateful that we got her back.”
Eventually returning to New York to finish her Masters after her mother recovered, Gina played a game of hide-and-seek with academia following graduation, working as both a project manager, and a coordinator for a non-profit, before making the decision to earn a Ph.D.
Why did she choose UCLA over other schools? There are two core reasons: One, she was impressed with how interdisciplinary the school was, and two, the roster of professors gave her confidence that she would be learning amongst the best. “Oh, and I love hiking. It’s instantly gratifying! Hiking is my church.” L.A. may be short on crepe stands, but never on beautiful places to hike.
ONLY AT UCLA
Life as a graduate student matches verbatim Gina’s pragmatic approach to life. In between reading/researching non-stop, teaching French language courses, learning Arabic and, lastly, singing and playing piano in the local band, Funky G’s Soul Machine, Gina has maintained a cool approach as she forges a unique and interesting path towards her dissertation.
“While studying French and music theory as an undergrad I realized you could be really passionate about what you work on, and synthesize your interests in unexpected ways. And now as a graduate student at UCLA I’m even more at peace with the idea that there is a flow to things in life, and that it all comes together in unexpected ways. You have to trust that there is a reason for all of this.”
Why study language? “Intercultural communication is something that’s very important to me. When you learn a language you learn about a culture. You learn to express new ideas. Language just isn’t words on paper. It’s a paradigm.”
Were her instincts about UCLA right? “This school truly is the perfect balance of freedom and structure. If you come to UCLA focused, and dive in, it’s a great place for that. Everyone is approachable, and you never feel isolated in your department – you are encouraged to explore and take creative approaches in your work.”
Moment of clarity? “I recently fell down a medieval literature rabbit hole thanks to a 14th Century travel narrative. I resisted at first, as it felt like such a huge jump from my previous focus in contemporary Francophone literature, but I eventually gave in. As it turns out, there is a lot of overlap between these areas of interest. And by adding Arabic into the mix, I really feel like I’m getting the best of all worlds. If it can be synthesized, I will find a way to do it!”
Getting there is half the fun, and Gina Lorenz is proof that success at UCLA always starts with the journey that it took to get here. This summer she’ll be teaching French for UCLA’s Summer Travel Study program in Paris, the latter of which she’s excited to rediscover as both a teacher and mentor. Then it will be back to her favorite place to hike.