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Alexander Johnstone - Chinese Studies

Alex with a classmate in Taiwan
Alex with a classmate in Taiwan

My decision to apply to study Chinese Studies was driven by a motivation to understand China from the inside, through the detailed study of its language and culture. Although the study of non-Western cultures is still considered somewhat of a novelty amongst people in the UK, I can wholeheartedly say I have no regrets about the decision I made. Rather, I would urge more people to pursue the study of this fascinating and important country and embark on a truly unique path in life, full of adventures.

The Cambridge course aims for you to reach an advanced proficiency in Modern Chinese by the end of the degree, which means the pace of learning is quick and intense. Learning to speak and write Chinese is by no means a small feat, but the sense of achievement is just as great. The small class sizes (typically no larger than 10 people) and supportive, high-quality teaching means your Chinese comes on in leaps and bounds term by term. I am really looking forward to reaping the rewards of my studies thus far during my upcoming year abroad in Beijing. The study of Classical Chinese alongside this deepens your intuitive understanding of the language as well as opening up the pleasures of reading pre-modern philosophy, prose and poetry in its original form.

The course also allows you to study various aspects of East Asian culture alongside intensive language work. Over the last two years, I have covered topics ranging from post-war Korean cinema, to Heian Japan and even China's reaction to Brexit. The freedom to study many different academic fields under one degree is very exciting and the faculty will support you in pursuing whatever academic interest you may have. The small size of the faculty means you end up building very close relationships with your classmates and professors.

Cambridge is a beautiful and comfortable city to live in, full of many interesting and ambitious people. The student community is really buzzing and there are so many things you can get involved with! Alongside my studies, I have found the time to help organise an international student film festival, take Spanish classes and keep up old interests in running and yoga. Whatever your interests, you are bound to find a society that suits you. 

I also have no regrets about choosing to study at St John's. The college community is big and diverse which means it is easy to make friends with like-minded people. The central location and stunning architecture make it a place you are truly proud to call home. The generous travel grants are second to none amongst Cambridge colleges and have allowed me to make the most of the summer vacation to visit Chinese-speaking areas. I have been lucky enough to have the support of the college to go study Chinese in Taipei for two months and travel in Xinjiang and Gansu this summer. I can fully recommend Chinese Studies at St John's to anyone interested.