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Talent Stories Interview - Justine Cassell

Talent Stories Interview - Justine Cassell

Paris Region's reputation as a global hub for a wide range of talent is well established. Its cultural mosaic, combined with attractive career prospects and quality of life, continues to attract people from all over the world. The dynamic landscape of renowned higher education and research institutions creates fertile ground for innovation and growth. All this is harmoniously complemented by the Region's unwavering commitment to fostering a harmonious balance between work and leisure, resulting in a rewarding and holistic lifestyle.

This story illustrates the vast opportunities offered by Paris Region to researchers. Justine Cassell, an American Senior Researcher at Inria Paris Center, arrived in the Region during her early adulthood and developed a deep appreciation for the language and culture. She now considers it her home and highly appreciates the benefits of living and working in Paris Region.

Tell us about your arrival in Paris Region

When I was 19, I wanted to reinvent myself far from anyone who knew me. My parents (both from New York City) had met in France, and that seemed romantic, so I decided to move to France. I arrived in Besançon in the eastern part of France, for a year of immersion. Surprisingly, I fell in love, not just with France, but also with linguistics during a class there. This set my path for the future.

Even after leaving Besançon, France kept calling me back through various connections - friends, research projects, and consulting jobs. I frequently visited Paris, renting an apartment in the 11th arrondissement, where I felt at home.

In 2018, after another sabbatical with the Chaire Blaise Pascal - a scheme funded by the Paris Region regional council to attract foreign researchers, I realized I didn't want to return to the US. I decided it was time to either move to France or settle in the US forever. Considering job opportunities and friends, I chose Paris.
Through fortunate circumstances, I secured a chaire at a new AI research center in Paris, and an associated job at the Inria Research Institute, and in fall 2019, I officially made Paris my new home!

Where did you choose to live and why?

I already loved the 11th arrondissement, so I focused my apartment search there. I discovered a neighborhood flea market called "vide-grenier" in Sainte-Marguerite, which I enjoyed for its multicultural food and music, friendly atmosphere, and charitable causes. I decided to find an apartment in that area.
I found a great one on LeBonCoin, an online platform for buying and selling items and for renting and buying apartments. It's located on Boulevard Voltaire between Nation and République metro stations. Though a bit noisy, I found an unexpected benefit - I can observe demonstrations and marches from my window using opera glasses, helping me stay informed about the political climate.

Tell us about your current job & what you enjoy the most about working in Paris Region?

I work as a researcher at PRAIRIE, one of France’s AI research centers. It's a decentralized research institute with around 50 researchers and professors from various institutes and universities in Paris. My official job is at INRIA Paris Centre, renowned for its quality work, attracting talented students and interns.

Initially on a fixed-term contract (CDD) for three years, I was delighted to receive a tenured contract offer last fall. Additionally, I successfully applied for French nationality, a process that required significant effort and documentation, but I'm now proud and excited to be a French citizen! The naturalization ceremonies at my local mayor's office made me feel truly settled in my beloved 11th arrondissement.

What advice you would give to a newcomer to make the most of Paris Region?

Starting my job in Paris in October 2019 was challenging, with yellow vest strikes and strict pandemic lockdowns. Feeling lonely, I found solace in two practices. First, I built connections with local shopkeepers by becoming a regular customer, which led to lasting relationships and special treatment. Shopkeepers in France have a reputation for being cold, but if you take the time to make small talk, and smile, and you’re polite, then they may save your favorite pastry for your usual time of arrival, find a source for a medication that is having supply-chain difficulties, suggest a cheaper wine but that is better than the one you are thinking of...

Second, I volunteered through (“I want to help”) which has hundreds of volunteer opportunities, many of which don’t require a good knowledge of French. I signed up to help hospitals during the pandemic. Since then, I’ve signed up for other volunteer opportunities, a great way to improve my French, meet people, and feel like a true Parisian.

For researchers and professors, I recommend joining Science Accueil, which offers valuable assistance for academic visitors and residents in Paris. They helped me figure out some rules about French taxes, and they also organized the most fun day-long event I’ve attended – a day of chocolate tasting, chocolate making, and discovery of chocolate history. Additionally, Explore Paris newsletter provides interesting and non-touristy tours and workshops.

For independent exploration, biking opened up beautiful day and week-long trips along France's national bike trails, revealing the country's stunning landscapes.

Your favourite spot?

In Paris, I have two favorite spots. The first is the Père Lachaise cemetery, which is exceptionally suited to long walks. It's a serene place where people stroll through the greenery as if it were a garden. One can explore specific graves, like those of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde.

My other cherished spot is the lawn at the free outdoor movie festival at La Villette Science Museum during the summer, called "le Cinema en plein air à la Villette." From early July to late August, people gather on the lawn with picnics to watch double features of classic and contemporary films on a massive screen.
Before the movie, one can enjoy a boat ride on the Saint Martin Canal, admire street art, or even take a quick dip at Paris Plage (“the Paris beach”), where the city creates a beach along the Seine River and Marne Canal for swimming and relaxation.

What was a “good surprise" when you got here?

The high quality and hands-on nature of health care in France. I chose to get a hip replacement in France rather than in the US because of the quality and accessibility of the surgeon (who invented one of the surgical robots that’s widely used for that surgery, but who nevertheless shared his personal email in case I had questions) and the perks of France’s socialized medicine system (that provided somebody to clean and shop for me after my surgery!).

Now that you have been living in Paris Region, what stereotype do you believe to be wrong about the French?

For many French people, Americans are felt to be superficial. I often hear from French people who spent time in the US that Americans invited them home the very first time they met, but that then they never heard from them again, and that made no sense given how intimate it is to be invited to somebody’s home. The flip side of that is that many people seem to think that the French are uniformly cold. I think, instead, there is a distinction here between people who matter and people who are simply passing through. Be polite and attentive and take the time to look at the person you’re talking to, listen to what they are saying, and invest in time with them, and you will quickly lose this stereotype.

Are you interested in gaining further insights into life within Paris Region? Check our Settle In guide made for individuals new to the Region or expatriates-to-be. It furnishes valuable advice on fully embracing and relishing all the enriching experiences that Living in Paris Region offers!

Paris Region is also home to a vibrant and flourishing American community. American expatriates will find themselves pleasantly delighted upon arriving in the Region, as they can rely on the companionship of fellow countrymen and an even more extensive network of English-speaking individuals. For more information check our American Community page.

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Olivier Allegret

Head of Client Solutions