Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge
The area we study stretches from Japan in the East to Morocco in the West, and from classical times to the present day. To study one of these cultures through its language is not only to develop a set of practical skills and knowledge that can be used later in many different ways, but also to engage with different ways of understanding our shared world.
We don’t require you to have studied specific subjects at school; the best preparation is for you to explore for yourself what interests you in the culture you choose to study (see the Faculty website for suggestions).
Flexibility: our range of options
Our course is flexible and numerous options and combinations are available. You should indicate which language(s) you’re interested in studying in your Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ) – the choice isn’t absolute and some students change direction before they start or as they progress.
- You can study Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese or Persian.
- You can combine Arabic, Hebrew and Persian with each other, or with a modern European language (if you have an A Level/IB Higher Level or equivalent in the European language), or with Egyptology or Akkadian. You can take Arabic or Hebrew on their own, but Persian must be combined with another language.
- Chinese and Japanese cannot be combined, with the exception that Korean can be combined as a minor subject with Japanese in Year 4.
Chinese gives you China in its own words. You encounter a sophisticated civilization and the most vibrant economy in the world today. You delve into its 3,500 years of recorded history, poetry and philosophy to understand how they shaped the tumultuous changes of modern times, and to engage with contemporary society.
In Japanese, you master the spoken and written forms of the modern Japanese language. You gain a comprehensive understanding of Japan, its history, its rich and varied culture, its politics and society, and its vital role in world affairs and the often fraught diplomacy of Northeast Asia.
Arabic and Persian, the languages of the Qur’an and of Islamic mystical poetry, are the keys to a medieval culture which kick-started the European Renaissance. Our course gives you access both to this and to the modern societies, cultures and thought fed by this heritage.
Hebrew offers classical (Biblical) and/or modern Hebrew and its literature, and the history and culture of Israel and the modern Middle East. You can also study other languages such as Aramaic.
Good knowledge of the language(s) is central to our course. Part I (Years 1 and 2) gives a strong grounding, and in Part II (Years 3 and 4) you study advanced language so that by the end of it you can speak fluently and read confidently. Alongside the language(s), there’s a wide range of topics on offer (depending on language), from which you can choose according to your interests – history, literature, religion, anthropology, politics, linguistics, film.
Living and learning abroad
The third year of the course is spent abroad – a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture you’re studying and to improve your language skills.
Chinese and Japanese students study at a university in the appropriate country. Arabic, Persian and Hebrew students have some choice of which country they go to and what they do. In the past, students have followed language courses, studied at a university, taught, or worked for companies or charities.
It's possible to change course after Year 2 (Part I). In recent years, undergraduates have successfully changed to modern languages, Law, and Human, Social, and Political Sciences.
Versatility: your choice of careers
The range of career options open to graduates is vast. Besides those who go into research, many graduates use their subject directly in subsequent employment. Examples include the media, business and commerce, tourism, teaching overseas, the Civil Service (especially the Foreign Office), NGOs, or international scientific agencies.
Even if you choose not to stay in a related field, employers are often impressed by your choice to study a difficult language. Our graduates have also gone into banking, marketing and law.