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Cambridge CB2 3RF
Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
As a student of Japanese, I encountered the following during my first term: Japanese Buddhists and warriors, classical literature, polite forms and honorifics, numerous dinner table conversations about why I was studying my subject in the first place, and the First Chinese Emperor.
Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, graduated 2013
The First *Chinese* Emperor??? Yes - although your focus of study will be one specific area and its language, you will also end up getting a broad introduction to neighbouring countries as well. For example, students of Chinese and Japanese share the East Asian History course in first year, and you can continue to study these other countries (or Korea!) if you wish to in second and fourth year. In that sense, the programme provides you with lots of opportunities to discover new interests. However, if you start out with a very clear idea of what aspects of your chosen culture you want to study, you may well find that the breadth of the programme, especially in the first year, slows you down a little.
“ The programme provides you with lots of opportunities to discover new interests ”
Throughout the course, you will spend most of your time trying to come to grips with your chosen language. Admittedly, none of the languages AMES offers are considered to be easy for English speakers. The various writing systems in particular, while appealing, can be painstakingly difficult to master. However, what you may find surprising in reading AMES is that ability matters less than the effort you put in. Being disciplined and systematic will go a long way. Experience of learning languages will come in handy, since you will already know how to learn vocabulary and how to analyse grammar, but at the admissions stage prior knowledge of your language will not give you any advantage other than to demonstrate your interest. However, once you are accepted by the university, some brief research into your language will certainly help you ease into your studies at Cambridge since the learning curve in the first year is steep – by the end of first year I was able to read my first Japanese short stories as a reward for my efforts. Also, be aware that your degree is not just about learning a language. You will also be expected to write occasional academic essays on various topics related to East Asia or the Middle East and to carry out a small research project in your final two years that will lead to a dissertation.
Since AMES is a small subject you may find yourself the only one in your college reading it - but don't worry! Unlike some of your friends in larger subjects, your studies will be largely based in the Faculty instead. You will quickly get to know your fellow students as well as all the teaching staff there, and it is easy to get involved as a student representative. The beginning stages may be tough, and involve a lot of intense language-learning, but the freedom of the year abroad and of the fourth year when you carry out your own research will more than make up for it.
Best thing? Fooling around overseas for a year
The particular strength of the Japanese language teaching at Cambridge is that it trains you to analyse grammatical structures and translate even small nuances. Cambridge is also one of the best places in Europe to study classical Japanese. On the other hand, you cannot expect to be able to fluently hold a conversation in Japanese until you have actually lived in Japan for some time during your third year!
Apart from the language itself you do not need to have clearly defined interests before your third year; but if you do, you might want to think about whether the interests of the teaching staff (check the website!) match yours. Whether or not you have a specific career in mind, a degree in AMES will open many doors - graduates regularly go on to further study, business and legal professions, non-profit or public sector work in all sorts of fields both home and abroad. A word of caution though: don't underestimate the necessity of living abroad as part of the course, and think about what moving away from home (quite far away!) might mean for you!
Worst thing? Not being able to forget texts you memorised before your exams...