Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Welcome to the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) subject page at King’s! Here you will find an overview of AMES at King’s, the course, the people who teach and research at King’s, plus information about applying as an undergraduate.

Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at King's

Xu Zhimo's stone

Xu Zhimo's stone by King's bridge

King's has a strong tradition in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. Students and Fellows at King's have included Tarif Khalidi, an eminent Quranic scholar, and Peter Avery, a renowned British scholar of Persian. George Antonius, author of the seminal text, The Arab Awakening, was one of the first Arab undergraduates at King's.

The Chinese poet Xu Zhimo (1897-1931) was a research student at King's in 1921-2. He discovered English romantic poets like Keats and Shelley and took their influence to China where he helped to develop modern Chinese poetry. In 1928 he revisited King's and wrote one of the most famous poems in China - 'Saying Good-bye to Cambridge Again'. Today a Beijing marble stone engraved with the first and last two lines of this poem lies near the bridge in King's where the river Cam runs through the College.

faculty of AMES

Outside the Faculty of AMES on the Sidgwick Site

AMES continues to be strong at King's, and students receive a lot of support from the Fellows at the College. The current Director of Studies, Charis Olszok, is Lecturer in Modern Arabic Literature and Culture at FAMES, and is there to offer advice throughout your studies, and help you settle into college, university and academic life at Cambridge. The college is also conveniently situated about seven minutes' walk from the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies on the Sidgwick site, which is where most lectures take place. But it is in College where you develop your closest intellectual and personal relationships and really get support from your Director of Studies and other languages students.

From pizza party study breaks when the going gets tough in the grey days of Lent Term, to the joint MML / AMES pudding party in the beautiful gardens after everyone has survived Easter Term, Directors of Studies are there to keep you going and make sure you get the most out of your studies. They run a language table where you can try out your ever increasing speaking skills, and sometimes they host speakers and conferences or show films. With students going on / returning from their Year Abroad, it is particularly helpful to have a strong and friendly college community in the subject to share experiences, advice and interests.

Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge

Freedom cartoon

Cartoon by Carlos Latuff

This is an exciting and important time to study Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. The "Arab Spring", a series of world-changing revolutions across the Middle East, saw dictator after dictator fall to the will of the people demanding freedom and justice. At the same time, it has left uncertainty and instability in its wake. The only way to understand these incredible historical moments is to know the languages - to be able to talk to people, read their newspapers and listen to their debates. Equally, just think of the growing economic power of China and South Korea, which are G-20 major economies today. The intensive grounding in one of the major non-European civilizations that this course offers will open up entire new worlds to you.

AMES students study a single language area or opt for one of the various language combinations available: Common choices are Arabic with Persian or Hebrew; or Arabic with a European language taught in the Modern and Medieval Languages (MML) faculty. Students with an interest in Asian Studies take either Chinese or Japanese alone for Part I. In Part II they can then either continue the single language course or combine Chinese and Japanese. The course covers the languages (from the beginning), the history of those who speak them, and their culture and society. It is, with some exceptions, a four-year course in which the third year is spent in a country where the AMES language is spoken.

film festival poster

Poster from a recent film festival organised by the Faculty of AMES

You might like to read the page about how teaching works. In Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, the relatively small numbers mean that even lectures are often given to fewer than ten students, so that there is much more contact between lecturer and student than is possible in 'bigger' subjects where the audience may be over a hundred. The first year teaching concentrates mostly on language work to cover the basic elements of the written and spoken language. In second year you do more advanced language work, and also have a choice of subjects including history, literature, society and politics.

It is possible to change between courses to suit your interests. Many students come to Asian and Middle Eastern Studies after doing part I of Classics, Economics, Mathematics, History, or another Tripos, and some complete Part I of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and then transfer to another Faculty such as Law, or Economics. It makes sense for someone who is interested in the politics, history, economics, or art of a non-Western country also to learn something of its language and culture. Such knowledge of increasingly important parts of the world is sought after by many employers.

The Year Abroad

Keye at Jebel Akhdar

Keye at Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain), Oman

At least eight months of your third year are spent abroad, in a country in which your language or languages are spoken. This is your chance to immerse yourself in the culture, politics, and people of a new place. Some students of Arabic enrol in a university course given in the target language, and many find private tuition or home-stays with families. Students of Japanese and Chinese enrol in universities designated by the Department. Many students find internships with media outlets, the United Nations, or NGO's.

During this year you also conduct research for a compulsory dissertation chosen at the end of your second year. Setting up your life and learning in a new place can seem daunting, but Year Abroad Coordinators are available for guidance and suggestions, and AMES students have a website where they share information and advice. King's fellow, Dr. Allen, provides a field work seminar every Lent term, with tips on how to do interviews, write field notes, navigate different gender systems, and so on.

Conducting archival or field research in a foreign language is an incredible challenge. When you realise you are fully living and thinking in a foreign language and land, it's also an exhilarating experience.

Full descriptions of year abroad arrangements are available on the AMES Faculty website: Arabic, Hebrew and Persian, Chinese, Japanese.

Student perspectives


Rebecca (left), Helena, Keye, Ivan and Tish have written detailed accounts about their experiences of studying AMES at King's, including their reasons for applying, the course, workload, teaching, year abroad and social life. These documents are well worth reading to get a sense of what King's AMES is really like.

King's Director of Studies and academics in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Basim Musallam

Basim Musallam is a Life Fellow in Islamic Studies. He is particularly interested in the social structure of medieval Islam and the history of ideas during this period as well as the history of the modern Middle East.

Mezna Qato

Mezna Qato is a Research Fellow who works on the history of education, development, popular mobilisation, and class in the Arab world. Her current research is on Palestinian students and teachers in exile and their relationships with governments, international regimes, and each other.

A number of King's fellows in other faculties have research interests related to Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. In Social Anthropology, for example, we have Caroline Humphrey, James Laidlaw, and Perveez Mody.

Students thinking of studying a language from the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty should also see the list of King's fellows in MML on the MML subject page.

Applying to study AMES at King's

applying for AMES

Applying with limited support?

We welcome applications from suitably qualified students at all kinds of schools all over the world. Details of our most common offers in a range of examination systems are given on the entrance requirements page. The numbers admitted for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at King's vary from year to year, but we rarely admit fewer than four or more than seven undergraduates. 

The application process for all subjects is explained on our how to apply page, which we advise applicants to read thoroughly in combination with the details below about the course options and subject requirements, the admissions assessments, sending school essays, and interviews for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.

course options

Before applying, please consult the list of possible language combinations. When submitting your UCAS application, the course you need to apply for is Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. Only students applying for two European languages apply for Modern and Medieval Languages. You will be asked for your language choice(s) on the SAQ (or the COPA if you are applying from overseas) - see how to apply.

Subject requirements

The Part I teaching for Asian and Middle Eastern languages assumes no prior knowledge of the subject or language you have applied for. Although there are no specific subject requirements for these languages, we will obviously be very interested in your aptitude for language learning. Most applicants study a foreign language at school, and should aim to achieve top grades in school-leaving foreign language subjects: it is desirable to be on track to achieve A* at A level or equivalent in your language at the end of sixth form.

If you are planning to combine Arabic, Persian or Hebrew with a language taught in the MML faculty (French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish), you will need an A level, IB Higher or equivalent qualification in the European language.

An interest in the world (in politics, history, or literature etc.) is important too, whatever your language choices are. Many applicants have studied social sciences such as Economics or History, but it is also possible to apply and do well with a background in maths and sciences. 

For further information about suitable subjects to prepare for the AMES course, please see the general advice on subject choices.

pre-interview assessment

All candidates for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at King's are required to take the pre-interview admissions assessment for AMES, which will take place in schools and other assessment centres on 2 November 2017. You must be registered in advance (separately to your UCAS application) to take the assessment. The registration deadline is 15 October 2017 and there is a deadline of 30 September if you normally get exam adjustments for a disability/Specific Learning Difficulty/long-term illness. Your assessment centre must register you for the pre-interview assessment (you can't register yourself).

Brief information about written assessments
AMES assessment format and specimen papers
Important: If you're not registered by 15 October (30 Sept for special arrangements) you won't be able to take the assessment. Unfortunately, this would mean that your application is not valid.

Your performance in the assessment will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.

written work

After applying, candidates for AMES are usually asked to submit two recent essays or equivalent pieces of school work on a subject of your choice. These may be discussed at interviews. If you apply to study a European language, you would also be asked to submit a piece of work written in your European language. For those looking early, written work guidelines are published in September as part of the Applicant Information. All applicants will receive an email shortly after the 15 October deadline sending you to this information. The deadline for written work will be in early November (see how to apply) and essays must not be sent before 15 October.


We invite most (but not all) candidates who apply for interview. Interviews at King's take place in early December. Much more than finding out what you know already, interviewers want to find out about how you learn, how you think on your feet, how you respond to challenges etc. so they will ask you plenty of questions to get you thinking and working.

Students applying for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies with a European language would have an additional language interview for their European language. It would be advisable to read the MML subject page.

Information about the interview options for international candidates are on the International Students page.

admissions assessment

If you are invited for interview and are applying for a European language, you will also be asked to take the at-interview written assessment for MML, which lasts one hour. You do not need to register for this written assessment as it will be organised automatically by the College if you are invited for interview. Students who are not applying for a European language do not take this assessment.

What are we looking for?

  • Curiosity to explore and be immersed in different cultures.
  • Delight in learning to converse fluently in a new language.
  • An enjoyment of the intricacies of grammar.
  • Tenacity to work through the challenging early stages of language learning.
  • Above all, independent, creative and analytically sharp minds and a relish for reading, discussing and writing.

Reading, resources and events

What do students do after the course?

Learning the languages, the politics, history and cultures of the Middle East or East Asia makes you an attractive job applicant in all kinds of professions. Arabic and Chinese speakers are valuable additions to NGO's, to international businesses working in the Gulf or China, to media outlets, or to publics and governments in need of fact-based political analysis. Or maybe you will opt to hone you linguistics skills and become a translator of literature. Once you know one (or more!) of these difficult languages, you can let others in on some of the beautiful prose and poetry of Japan, of Persia or Palestine.

Further Information

Bodley's Court

Bodley's Court

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