I spent the summer on a Streicker fellowship in Paris, France, researching welfare economics and climate change at the Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne and working on a report of the International Panel on Social Progress. Each day of my summer was different, but the two days described below should give a brief picture of what my experience was like.
Wednesday, July 5th: Paris, France
8h30 – I wake up in my room at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris, a student housing complex on the outskirts of the city, featuring a large park and students from over 140 different countries. On my way out, I pick up a viennoise pastry (with chocolate chips!) for breakfast. I take the RER line and then the metro into town, towards the upscale neighborhood of Saint-Germain. It's rush hour—work rarely begins before about 9h30—and I squeeze into a crowded train.
9h30 – I arrive at my workplace, the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme (FMSH), a publicly-funded research organization. I and my two French supervisors—an economist in Paris, and his colleague at Princeton—sit down to do some welfare axiomatics. We are trying to find a way to evaluate risky social policies, hoping to improve the average person's prospects while minimizing the inequality that this may create. We begin with a list of axioms that a social evaluation framework must satisfy, and then try to find a nice function with all the desired properties—or more often, unfortunately, prove that no such function exists. The discussion is all in English, but I still struggle to keep up with the technical details. I understand the basic issues at play, though, and I'm sometimes able to weigh in on the general mathematical strategy.
12h30 – We go to lunch at a Basque restaurant just around the corner: the specialties are Iberian ham and sheep cheese. My professor has a house in the Pyrenees, in the Basque region of France—I never knew there was a Basque region of France—and the countryside he describes sounds beautiful. I never get a chance to see the French countryside, sadly, but Paris seems to have enough sights to keep me occupied for a lifetime. Back at work, we eventually realize that there is a new axiom we can use to greatly simplify our calculations. The next question will be whether this axiom is as philosophically plausible as it is mathematically convenient.
18h00 – I rush home after work, grab a quick panini for dinner, drop off my bag and head back out again. Tonight the Louvre is open late, and I would like a few hours to wander around after the biggest crowds have left. After just a few minutes in the museum, I am in awe at the incredible amount of history and wealth on display. Millions of lives have contributed to create the artifacts here, and I cannot begin to imagine the creativity and passion that must have gone into each piece. The Louvre, much like modern-day Paris itself, is a very diverse place: its pieces come from all different places and different times. Throughout my time here I have been impressed by the way that the French culture manages to collect and interact with all sorts of global influences while maintaining its own distinct character. Somehow the same is true of the museum: the pieces inside are from everywhere, but the museum itself is decidedly French. When the museum closes, I wander out to Rue Rivoli and catch the metro home.
Thursday, July 6th: Paris, France
8h45 – For breakfast I eat an apple and a pot of yogurt from the fridge. Today I'm going to my other office: not at the FMSH, but at the Maison des sciences économiques of the Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris I). I take the bus, past Place d'Italie and up towards the hospital.
9h15 – At the Maison des sciences économiques, I have a desk in a room shared with doctoral students, just down the hall from my supervisor's office. My work for the morning is to review manuscripts for the International Panel on Social Progress, formatting chapters of the Panel's forthcoming report.
12h30 – I go out for lunch with the other students in my office. There's a bakery just across the street, and I pick up a ham and cheese sandwich and a pastry. I eat this lunch often, and enjoy it every time: the bread and cheese are leagues above an American sandwich, and the pastries are varied enough that I'm almost always trying something new. Talking to the other students, I learn that one is from provincial France and the other from Turkey. I try to understand as they explain their work—my French economics vocabulary is shaky, but I get a general sense of the field they're working in.
13h30 – In the afternoon, I turn again to a different project. I'm working on a website, hosted by Princeton's Climate Futures Initiative, which allows users to calculate optimal climate policies based on their own ethical judgements. The site, climatepolicysimulator.princeton.edu, is nearly finished.
18h30 – After work, I decide to explore instead of going straight home. I get off the bus at the Butte aux Cailles, a lovely hilltop neighborhood with an artisan well, an old church, and a cluster of hip bars and restaurants. I wander down the hill looking for a place to eat, and settle on a small Vietnamese restaurant on the corner. Vietnamese food is plentiful in Paris, but this is some of the best I've had.
20h00 – When I get home, I read a few chapters of a Balzac novel—slowly, in French—trying to enjoy the story while also looking up words on every page. I message my friends in the U.S., some at Princeton for the summer, some at home, and it's strange to remember how different my lifestyle is in Paris. I know that before too long I'll be back in America, and soon enough back to Princeton, but for now I'm thrilled to have the chance to experience it all—the history, the culture, the food—and the thrill of discovering a different way of life.
Caleb is one of 12 undergraduates who were awarded 2017 Streicker International Fellowships. Streicker Fellows design their own projects or internships in conjunction with a hosting organization. During his fellowship, he worked as a research intern at the Centre d'Économie de la Sorbonne in Paris.