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Asian and Middle Eastern Studies


St John's College has a strong commitment to Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (formerly Oriental Studies) and typically accepts several students each year. The Director of Studies for the subject is Dr Adam Chau, who is an anthropologist of Chinese religion. College Fellowship also includes two other China specialists (including one who is also proficient in Japanese) and two Hebrew specialists (making St John's one of the leading Colleges with Asian and Middle Eastern Studies expertise). In recent years students have been accepted for a wide variety of courses and languages taught in the Faculty.

St John's can provide financial help to enable undergraduates who travel in the Long Vacations to the country whose language they are studying. In addition, all undergraduates are eligible for generous book grants.

Course Information

The course is very flexible with numerous options and combinations available. You can study Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese or Persian. In addition, you can combine Arabic, Hebrew and Persian with each other or with subjects from other faculties such as a modern European language (provided you have an A Level/IB Higher Level in the European language). In Part II Chinese and Japanese can be combined with one another under special circumstances. See the Faculty website for full details of various pathways and possible combinations. Please note that studying these languages requires a sustained interest in the cultures and civilisations that they represent, so as well as linguistic skills, students should be committed to learning about and even embracing ways of seeing the world that are entirely different to their own.

Part 1

In Part I, which normally takes two years, you get a thorough grounding in the language(s) of your choice, while your study of the cultural component gradually increases. Whether the culture is modern or pre-modern, you will choose from a variety of paper options including literature, history, religion, politics, anthropology, films, and society of the region you have chosen.

Part II

You spend your third year abroad, studying or working in a country where the language you're learning is spoken. In the fourth year, greater specialisation is expected and students write a dissertation on a topic of their choice.

Organisation of teaching

What makes the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies unique is the level of personal attention paid to the progress of each student in the classroom. As a part of a small faculty – and an even smaller subject area –you benefit from being taught in small groups, geared to your needs.

- Language teaching takes place in small groups, as required by the intensity and pace of the course.  The modern spoken form of the languages is normally taught by native speakers.

- Lectures in non-language classes may be taught in larger groups, particularly if the class is for a core paper.

- In addition, students have one or two weekly supervisions. Involving usually just one or two students and a teacher, these meetings are, in contrast to supervisions in most other subjects at Cambridge, organised by the Faculty. As a result, little of the actual course takes place in the College or relies on instruction arranged by the College.

Choosing St John's

Even though supervisions are arranged centrally by the Faculty, St John's is fortunate to have a Director of Studies as a Fellow of the College who is also a staff member of the Faculty. This provides the crucial advantage of being able to offer students at St John's the necessary guidance and support throughout the course (e.g. arranging informal language exchange partners and providing contacts for study abroad opportunities). The Director of Studies meets regularly with the students to discuss their progress and achievements. St John's has a lively community of AMES students and is committed to further expanding student numbers in AMES subjects. We welcome applicants from all educational and nationality backgrounds.

See what former and current students say about studying AMES subjects at St John's.

Directors of Studies

Dr Imre Galambos - Acting Director of Studies in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

UCAS Code: TT46

Entry Requirements

Essential: No prior knowledge of your chosen AMES subject language(s) is required, unless combining a modern European language, in which case an A Level/IB Higher Level in the European language is required.

Desirable: A foreign language at A-level (or equivalent) is particularly desirable, if only to demonstrate the applicant’s ability to learn a different language. Other useful A-levels (or equivalent) are History, Mathematics, and the Sciences, though applicants have been accepted from a wide variety of academic backgrounds.

Typical offers at A-Level is A*AA. The subject in which the A* is to be achieved is not specified. Typical IB Offer: 40–42 points, with 776 at Higher Level.

In advance of interview you will be asked to submit two school essays, on any subject, as examples of written work. Those who are invited to attend for interview will have two interviews at St John's. Your first general interview will be with the Tutor for the subject, and the second Subject interview will be with the AMES Director of Studies and one other subject expert. Candidates applying for a European Language will also have a Subject interview with the Director of Studies in the language they have selected to apply for. The aim of interviews, which last upto 30 minutes minutes each, is to find out from you at first hand about your motivation and aptitude for the course you have chosen. We conduct our interviews in a friendly and informal manner, and you should not feel daunted by the prospect of them. The Director of Studies will naturally want to discuss subject-related questions with you, and perhaps discuss samples of your writing. Language exercises are not required.

Pre-Interview Assessment

Applicants for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies will need to sit the University's Pre-Interview Assessment, more information on which is available here. Candidates applying for a Modern Language will also be required to sit the At-Interview assessment for that language. Further information can be found here.  

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...
Mercedes McCambridge
Before coming to St John’s College in October 2016, I studied Advanced Higher French, English and Chemistry at a small comprehensive state school in the North of Scotland. I had only done what little Japanese study I could outside of my academic schedule during high school, so choosing to take Japanese to a degree level was a bit of a leap of faith for me. However, looking back now, I am so glad...
Edward Allen - Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
'I came to St John's in 2007 having studied for the International Baccalaureate in Sixth Form instead of A-Levels. I had started to learn about Chinese language and history during my final three years at school, and was eager to continue my studies at University. St John's provided the perfect environment to make friends with people who were pursuing their own passions in a variety of exciting...
Judy Kahan, AMES
'I originally applied to St John's to study Land Economy, a unique course combining a range of different topics including Economics, Accountancy and Law. After a few weeks I decided it wasn't quite the right fit for me and asked to change course to Middle Eastern Studies. The support I received from the College in this decision and then in my subsequent decision to take some time out before re-...
Gregor McMillan, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
'I'm from Scotland, which means I wear a skirt to social gatherings. I went to a small state comprehensive outside of Edinburgh, where I studied Maths, French, Italian and History at Advanced Higher. In my spare time I worked in a chip shop, where I learnt the difference between 'White Pudding' and 'Black Pudding' and experienced the 'Deep Fried Mars Bar'.'Following school, I took a year out and...
Aleksander Makal - AMES
'Before coming to St John's in October 2009, I took the International Baccalaureate at XXXIII Nicolaus Copernicus High School in Warsaw, Poland. I have to admit that, despite my school having a good record of students going on to study at British universities, I was concerned that my academic and linguistic background may compromise my chances of getting into Cambridge - however, I need not have...
Carl-Fredrik Eriksson, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
'Before coming to St John's I studied at an international school in Stockholm where I completed the IB diploma. When I left school in 2011 I went straight into a gap year that involved a combination of work and travelling in Europe. At the beginning I was looking at studying in Japan, and it was really a coincidence that I discovered the amazing AMES course at Cambridge.'The best thing about...

Further Information

Full information about all AMES subjects and pathways can be found on the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) webpage.

Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Course Video, courtesy of the University of Cambridge