You’ve probably heard of the most famous graduate of what is now Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) at the University of Cambridge: James Bond.

Of course, becoming a spy is only one career option for students on this course. Thanks to in-depth specific knowledge of the cultures they study and a wide range of transferable skills, our graduates in the most diverse professions.

Strong links overseas

Every summer a group of Japanese students attend the Keio summer school at Downing, every autumn a Keio Fellow visits us for three months to conduct research. Downing undergraduates can also apply to study at Keio University during their year abroad.

Downing does not only welcome students interested in Japan. We have recently admitted students reading Arabic, Chinese and Persian, while graduate students are researching Palestinian literature, Chinese migrants in Japan, Chinese linguistics, listening behaviour in Japan and South Asian history.

Teaching and learning

AMES are often referred to as small subjects. This is true, in terms of the number of teachers and students involved. For that reason, unlike most other faculties, students are generally supervised directly by professors and lecturers who teach at the university regardless of college affiliation. Students get to know their teachers very well.

AMES deal with a wide range of disciplines and methods. While Cambridge has traditionally been particularly strong in the study of pre-modern sources and continues to be so, it has also built up strong expertise in contemporary societies, politics, literature and popular culture.

AMES subjects are challenging, both a quick mind and continuous hard work are required. Yet, overcoming obstacles in discovering fascinating new worlds is a highly satisfying and rewarding endeavour.

Brief outline of the course

Our course is very flexible with numerous options and combinations available. You can study:

Arabic

Chinese

Hebrew

Japanese

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.

Chinese and Japanese cannot ordinarily be combined, except with each other in Part II. See the AMES Faculty website for full details of possible combinations.

Part I

This part of the course normally takes two years. You get a thorough grounding in the languages of your choice, with an increasing focus on the cultural component.

Whether the culture is classical or modern, a variety of paper options may be offered in the literature, history, religion, politics, anthropology and society of the region you’ve 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 possible and students write a dissertation on a topic of their choice.

The college has an established link with Keio University, the leading Japanese private university. It is normally possible to arrange a study place at Keio for students in Japanese studies, supported by a scholarship, during their year abroad.

Organisation of teaching

What makes the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies unique is the way in which teaching is conducted. Teaching mainly takes place in small groups, geared to your needs.

Language teaching takes place in small groups which supports intensive study, necessary as the course progresses relatively quickly. The modern spoken forms of the languages are largely taught by native speakers.

Lectures in non–language classes may be taught in larger groups, particularly if the class is for a core paper, but usually there are fewer than ten students in one class.

In addition, students have regular supervisions, which are very small teaching groups, often with only one or two students. Unlike other subjects at Cambridge, these are organised by the Faculty, not the Colleges, so very little of the teaching students receive is dependent on their Colleges.

Director of Studies

The Director of Studies in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies is Dr Brigitte Steger.

Entry requirements and interviews

A foreign language at A–level (or equivalent) is particularly desirable, suggesting a proven ability to cope with language work. If you’re combining study with a modern European language, an A-Level or IB Higher Level in that language is required.

Other useful A–levels are History and English, though applicants have been accepted from a wide variety of academic backgrounds.

There is no quota for the admission of students in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and the number of applicants fluctuates considerably from year to year; but Downing encourages smaller subjects. In recent years, Downing had an intake of two students per year.

Qualities we are looking for

Candidates will need a clear head for grammar, the recognition of linguistic patterns and the learning of vocabulary.

Although an experience of language learning is extremely useful, several students have excelled in this Tripos from school backgrounds in Mathematics, Sciences or Music, as well as History.

Note that apart from language learning all these subjects involve essay writing on a wide range of topics. An independent approach to learning, together with evidence of wide reading will be expected. Enthusiasm is also essential, as is the ability to work in small groups.

Interviews 

At present, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies applicants receive two or three interviews, depending on choice of subject, on the same day, with either one or two interviewers.

Interviews are intended to inform us of your motivation and your overall ability and potential. One will be with the Director of Studies, usually joined by a specialist in the candidate’s chosen subject.

Candidates applying for a combined course with a modern European language will be given a third interview by a specialist in that language and will sit a written test on the day of the interview. This test will consist of an essay in a foreign language of the candidates choosing written in response to a short passage in English.

Prior to interviews, we will ask to see some of the written work you have produced during your studies, which may provide some of the basis for discussion.

All applicants are required to take the pre-interview assessment for AMES. This is by no means an exam. In other words, this assessment is not a pass/fail test. It is simply something to supplement the information in your application and provide a gauge of your abilities, in particular to assess skills such as comprehension and thinking skills.  Rest reassured that your performance in any required written assessment will not be considered in isolation, but taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.

For information about this assessment please click here.

Further advice about entry requirements and interviews for all subjects can be found in the Applying to Downing section of this site.

Email addresses

General enquiries.

For undergraduate admissions enquiries.

For graduate admission enquiries.

Prospective candidates are welcome to visit on Open Days, which are regularly arranged.

The Director of Studies is happy to answer any queries from candidates considering making an application.