Asian & Middle Eastern Studies (AMES)

Caroline Meinhardt

“Why did you decide to study Chinese?”: I must have been asked this question a thousand times already, but I still don’t have the perfect answer. Usually I mention my enthusiasm and curiosity for the language and the fascinating history and culture that comes with it, the challenge of studying something completely new and the prospect of spending a year in China, deepening my understanding of the country. Whatever your reasons, I’m sure you will have an exciting and rewarding experience studying Chinese at Clare.

Clare was an obvious college choice for me as it ticked all the boxes. It’s one of only a handful of colleges that has a fellow in Chinese Studies and a small but lovely community of AMES professors and students. I am the only Chinese student in my year at Clare, but we tend to have 1-3 Chinese students per year and anything between 6-10 students across the years making up our AMES “family”. I was also drawn to Clare for its reputation of being a very musical college with a renowned choir, college music society and jazz bands. But I soon discovered that Clare has so much more on offer with its numerous sport teams, drama groups and other societies ranging from life drawing to knitting. Clare is big enough to cater to all kinds of common and niche interests whilst still being small enough to be a friendly community where everyone knows each other. Add to that its beautifully preserved 17th century buildings and stunning gardens right next to the river and I was sold.

I had as good as no prior knowledge of Chinese when I applied and so my application process included submitting coursework essays I had written for my Spanish and German classes at school. Finally, I had two interviews: one at the faculty and one at Clare. In my subject interview, I was able to talk about some of the books that had first sparked my interest in China before being asked some more specifically language-related questions and discussing a Chinese propaganda poster. My general interview with an AMES professor at Clare was much less about China than it was a conversation about languages and cultures more generally, which evolved into new topics of discussion as we talked. This was unexpected, but it shows that you can’t prepare for all eventualities. The most important thing is to make sure you know why it is you really want to study Chinese here, stay calm and enjoy the conversation; after all, your interviewers aren’t wanting to catch you out but are genuinely interested in your thoughts and ideas.

Four years later I’m still happy I chose Chinese and Clare. I count myself lucky to be studying in a small and intimate faculty in classes that don’t exceed 14 students as it means that I’ve formed close relationships with my teachers and especially with my fellow Chinese students from other colleges. Chinese classes in first and second year move at a fast pace as you quickly build up a vocabulary and a sense of the language alongside the country’s history, but this is hugely rewarding as you can clearly see how much progress you have made at the end of each term. The year with the steepest learning curve (and arguably the best part of the course) is the year abroad. I absolutely loved my time in Beijing; not only did I get the chance to study at China’s top university, but everyday life in this exciting city really boosted my enjoyment of and confidence in the language while the holidays allowed me to travel and explore different parts of the country. That being said, it’s also nice to come back for a final year and be able to really appreciate life in Cambridge. At Clare, this could mean taking one of the college’s punts out on the river with your friends, enjoying a three course meal in our formal hall, sunbathing in the beautiful Fellows Garden or grabbing a pint in Clare Cellars – unofficially the best college bar in town. I like living and studying at Clare because it’s a down-to-earth and supportive community both in terms of the student body and its academic professors and supervisors. The college really does live up to its reputation as the “friendly” college. Besides, what better way to start your day than walking past Clare’s very own statue of Confucius on your way to a lecture on Chinese philosophy.