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Student Profiles

See what some of our current students have to say about the course.

Skandar Keynes, Pembroke College
BA Arabic and Persian, fourth year (2013)

“My Lebanese heritage and a lifelong desire to speak Arabic first sparked my interest in Middle Eastern Studies. However, after starting in Cambridge I realised that the course had so much more to offer beyond helping me meet a personal challenge. By the final year of the course, the language component only comprises a sixth of the program. The rest is filled by incredibly diverse options. During my undergraduate studies, aside from Arabic language, I have been able to study social and political anthropology, pre-modern and modern history, literature, and religious studies, all in relation to the Middle East. Furthermore, upon discovering more about the richness of Iranian culture and history, I decided to take on Persian in my second year. Considering the close links between the Persian and Arab worlds, learning the two languages in tandem facilitates the entire enterprise and often provides interesting linguistic insights into both.

The Cambridge course also gives you the opportunity to set the boundaries of your own studies at many other points. One of the reasons I applied to Cambridge was because of the Department’s unique approach to the year abroad that allows you to decide exactly how you want to spend the third year of the degree. As long as you are either enrolled in a language program or doing actual work in the context of an Arabic environment, you can go pretty much anywhere in the Middle East that is safe to go to. This was great for me, as I was able to go to Lebanon and learn Lebanese colloquial Arabic, the original purpose of my studies. I was able to mix language immersion while gaining valuable experiences that I can actually put on my CV, (such as volunteering to help people with mental disabilities or teaching English while living in a village in the Lebanese mountains), with more formal instruction, which ensured that I maintained and furthered my written Arabic. All of this took me travelling across Lebanon and I was able to have a bit of the ‘gap yah’ I never had.

Although it is a distant prospect for any prospective undergraduate, the final-year dissertation does provide you with a truly exceptional chance to research and write up any topic that falls within the blissfully broad parameters of Middle Eastern studies. I am certainly not alone in saying that this is one of the highlights of the course and one of its most rewarding parts. I have been writing a comparison between the teaching of history in Iran and Saudi Arabia. As part of this research, I have translated school textbooks from both countries. The excellent language instruction in this department has made this nowhere near as daunting a task as it might sound.

As we work toward finishing our degrees, my classmates and I are now applying for various jobs in the fields of journalism, business, the civil service, think tanks, NGOs, and for further study. Having studied the languages and societies of the Middle East at Cambridge means that many doors are open to us.”