As a CES Dissertation Research Fellow, Stefan Beljean spent 10 months in Berlin conducting fieldwork in German secondary schools. He spoke about his findings and the benefits of his strong connection to the Center.
How long have you been a student affiliate of the Center?
I’ve been an affiliate since I completed my coursework in my second year. My adviser, Michèle Lamont, is a faculty associate at the Center, and she encouraged me to apply. Other graduate students recommended it as well. It’s wonderful to have office space here, and you get to know people from different departments. That’s been great, and it helps broaden your perspective.
Tell us about your research and the fieldwork you conducted in Berlin.
My research focuses on high school students. I’ve done some work here in Boston and in Berlin, working with secondary students at several schools. I’m looking at how students are preparing for or focusing on going to college during their high school experience. I found quite a contrast between the two countries.
In the U.S., especially for middle-class and upper-middle-class students, much of the high school experience is geared toward preparing for college. Students are focused on taking AP classes, doing the right extracurriculars. In Germany, there’s more of a disconnect between those two levels of education. The prospect of going to university is certainly there, but people don’t align their actions and orientation so much with it. In sociology we would say it has less of a “structuring effect” on the lives of secondary students. Their everyday lives aren’t entirely oriented toward going to the best possible college, whereas in the U.S., for students of the same socioeconomic class, that’s often the case.