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Course and Year Abroad

Admission Requirements

The qualifications required to do a BA in Middle Eastern Studies are not strictly defined. Arabic, Persian and Hebrew are all taught from scratch at Cambridge, so the course requires no prior knowledge of any of these languages. Students who wish to combine Middle Eastern Studies with a modern European language must have an 'A' level in their chosen European language. Please note that native speakers of one of the Middle Eastern Studies languages may not focus on that language as part of their BA studies.

Our student intake for the course does vary, but on average we admit twenty undergraduates each year.

The Tripos System

The course is four years in duration, and is divided into two parts. Part I, lasting two years, will provide you with a thorough grounding in reading, writing, and speaking at least one Middle Eastern language and in the history and culture of the Middle East.

The Tripos system is very flexible, and allows you to combine Middle Eastern Studies with a modern European language throughout your BA. You may also  change subject after completing Part I, either to study a completely unrelated subject, or to shift the emphasis within Middle Eastern Studies. For example, if you have combined languages in Part I you have the option of taking different proportions of either language in Part II, or of dropping one completely to concentrate on the other. Similarly, if you combine with a modern European language at Part I, you can continue to do so during Part II, or you can concentrate more on one or the other language.

The Supervision System

One of the distinctive strengths of Cambridge teaching is the supervision system, in which you have the opportunity to test out your ideas with a member of academic staff. This is a critical part of the pedagogical process, and we expect you to participate in a genuine dialogue in which you should challenge us as much as we, inevitably, will challenge you. In the first year you will have supervisions for language and for history, usually in pairs or small groups.

Rachel teaching Hebrew

First Year (Part IA)

During your first year, you will be given a thorough grounding in your chosen language(s), along with a general introduction to the history and culture of the Middle East. You will prepare for examination in four subject areas at the end of the year.

Languages offered for study through the Department of Middle Eastern Studies are Arabic, Persian (Farsi), Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew. Papers on Akkadian and Egyptian are also offered through the Department of Archaeology and Anthroplogy. If you study Arabic, Persian or Modern Hebrew in your first year, you will also prepare for an oral examination in that language. 

In addition to language study, you will need to choose at least one of the following papers: Introduction to the History and Culture of the Middle East or Introduction to the Contemporary Middle East.

Second Year (Part IB)

In your second year, you will continue with more detailed study in at least one of your chosen languages. You will have an oral exam if you study Arabic, Persian or Modern Hebrew. While enhancing your knowledge of the language through the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, you can also take classes in literature — reading texts in their original language — as well as classes in the history and culture of the region.

If you wish to broaden your horizons yet further, three papers are available to you in the Department of Linguistics in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages. Papers on Modern Judaism and Islam are also offered through the Faculty of Divinity.

You will prepare for examinations in five subject areas at the end of your second year.

Third Year (Part II: Year Abroad)

The Year Abroad is one of the most rewarding parts of the degree course, where you have a chance to explore the language, society and culture of the Middle East for yourself. To encourage this exploration, you will choose how and where to spend your Year Abroad, as long as the country you choose is safe at the time, and you are spending the year doing something structured that involves considerable use of Arabic, Hebrew or Persian.

All Middle Eastern Studies students, including those combining this with a European language, must spend at least eight months in the Middle East. They have another seven months between the end of their second year and the beginning of their fourth to spend where they wish. All students must spend at least two months following a structured course in the language they are studying, at one of a number of approved institutions in different countries, and some may spend the whole year doing this. There may also be the option of spending some of the year doing some sort of internship or voluntary work, alongside some private tuition in the language subject to Faculty Board approval. Some follow a university course (if approved by Cambridge University) that is taught to local students in the local language. This might have you learning Islam and Middle Eastern politics in Arabic, Persian literature in Farsi or Israeli literature in Hebrew. Students make their arrangements themselves, but the Department provides a great deal of information, support, and advice. Please note students for 2017 entry exact details of the year abroad are still being finalised.

As well as improving your language knowledge and getting a better feel for the culture and society, the Year Abroad allows you to gather material for a dissertation on a topic of your own choosing during the year, to be written up in your fourth year. You will receive guidance on this both before and during the year abroad. The dissertation mark counts double, so students start developing ideas for their research projects in second year. There is no requirement for you to take or pass exams or follow specific courses of study during the year abroad. What you achieve over the year is examined in your fourth year in your oral exam, your dissertation, and the way the knowledge and experience you have gained give breadth and depth to your other studies.

More detailed information about the year abroad is given in each language area.

Fourth Year (Part II: Dissertation and Finals)

Your final year comprises further advanced-level language work, plus special papers in fields of your interest. A major focus of the fourth year is writing a dissertation in close consultation with your supervisor. Final year courses offer in-depth perspectives on particular aspects of literature, history, anthropology, translation, and Islamic philosophy.