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Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

St John's College has a strong commitment to Asian and Middle Eastern 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 2

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.

Entry Details

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.

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.  

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 up to 30 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.