What can you learn from it?
Knowledge of East Asian history, culture, and politics is essential to understanding our world today—from issues of climate change and global security to national memory-making and international arts. East Asian language skills are a valuable asset in our current world, and they are an avenue into a deeper understanding of the cultures and histories of China, Japan, and Korea.
East Asian Studies is an inter-disciplinary major. While some students choose to delve deeply into a nation’s past, studying ancient poetry, history, or classical literature, others focus on a topic or theme, such as medicine, religion, or social history, that allows them to compare cultures or connect historical periods. While it is helpful to develop a focus within your studies, an EAS major can study literature, politics, art, economics, anthropology, history, and film in various combinations.
The East Asian Studies Department also features an intensive focus on language. All EAS majors are required to achieve proficiency in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean through third year. Princeton’s top-level language instructors and sophisticated pedagogical methods allow students to achieve mastery of these languages in a structured and supportive environment.
Through travel and immersion in very different languages and ways of thinking, students learn to see the world from multiple perspectives. This heightened awareness helps you think creatively no matter what you do in the future. Here is what one major writes about what one learns in EAS:
“As an American of non-East Asian background, I have found that my knowledge of China and the Chinese language have enabled me to engage more critically and thoughtfully with my own culture. When living in a single cultural environment and speaking only one language, it is easy to take these for granted, to see them as natural and inevitable. Yet, in trying to make another language and intellectual tradition my own, I have become better able to place my culture at a critical distance and challenge many beliefs that have become deeply ingrained in my upbringing.”
Another EAS major gives the following advice to freshmen and sophomores deciding on their major:
"You have your whole life to specialize in an industry; in college, you should seize the opportunity to explore the world and the diverse perspectives that majoring in EAS provides."
Majoring in a regional studies department allows students to have one-on-one faculty attention from scholars across disciplines. EAS consistently comes out on top in surveys of student satisfaction by department. At Princeton, EAS is also the department with the highest ratio of students going abroad; practically all our majors spend some time—be it a summer, several summers, a semester, or a full year—in East Asia.
East Asian Studies also provides disciplinary training through either EAS courses or cognate courses in affiliated departments such as Art and Archeology, Anthropology, Comparative Literature, Economics, History, Politics, and Sociology.
Our rigorous and intense language training in Chinese, Japanese and Korean culminates in upper-level courses on literature and film taught entirely in the target language. In addition, most EAS majors attempt to conduct some portion of their senior thesis research in that language. Here is what EAS majors have written about being in the department:
“We benefit from a very low student to professor ratio and come to know our professors very well. Because all of the EAS majors in each class know each other, I have found that we are closer as a group than the majors in some of the larger departments.”
“Being an EAS major is like being a politics major, an anthropology major, a philosophy major, a comparative literature major, a history major, and an art and archaeology major at the same time.”
“Learning these languages is really a collaborative experience. Speaking, role-playing, and immersion abroad are the best ways to learn, so you will form deep bonds with your classmates as an EAS major.”
“The quality of the language instruction is second to none; in fact, the Chinese department is one of the main reasons I came to Princeton.”
“One of my favorite aspects of being an EAS major is the reaction I get from people outside my department when I tell them my major. This inevitably starts a conversation about how I came to be interested in China, how a native English speaker can learn Chinese, how classical Chinese philosophy is different from or similar to Western philosophy…the list goes on. EAS is a unique and unusual major—the path less traveled is highly rewarding."
What are common misconceptions about East Asian Studies majors?
Here again are some recent voices of EAS majors:
“One misconception I have heard outside of Princeton is that most EAS majors are of Asian descent, are international students from East Asia, or are native speakers of Chinese or Japanese. In fact, we are as ethnically and geographically diverse as the students in any other department, and many of us are not native speakers of any of the East Asian languages. Nor have all of us had extensive experience traveling to East Asia, and experience as a world traveler is definitely not a prerequisite for joining the department. All that is necessary is a desire to study at least one challenging language and learn about a critical region of the world.”
“We are not just people who take a bunch of language classes. While the language skills are important, a lot of the courses required for the major involve seminars and/or lectures similar to what is found in other departments. The mix is refreshing.”
“Although it is interdisciplinary, EAS is classified as a humanities department, and a misconception I have heard about humanities majors in general is that they are consequently less employable than social science or hard science majors. Any person who knows anything at all about the humanities knows that this is far from the truth. Research, writing and analytical skills are always in high demand; add on top of that mastery of a language like Chinese or Japanese and you have a winning combination.”
EAS graduates have gone into a wide range of career paths and graduate education, including journalism, banking, international law, publishing, authorship, medicine, and business. Recent graduates have landed positions in editing with the Huffington Post, television programming with FX (Fox), The Wall Street Journal Asia, banking with JP Morgan, management with a culinary trade magazine based in New York, and working at the first national video on demand provider in China.
As one student has noted about the idea that an EAS degree might be less promising for starting one’s career:
“This is the most common misconception about EAS majors. Some parents and students think that it’s a poor life choice to be an EAS major because you won’t get a job. That’s just not true. Learning Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or some combination of these is a differentiator. I haven’t yet worked in a field directly related to East Asia, yet in every interview for jobs in the media and entertainment industry, I’ve found myself sharing stories about my summers abroad and the experiences Princeton EAS enabled.”
What kind of internships and international experiences have majors had?
Many EAS majors study and travel abroad in East Asia. For Japanese and Chinese, Princeton hosts its own summer language immersion programs, Princeton-in-Ishikawa and Princeton-in-Beijing. In addition, the East Asian Studies Department has developing partnerships with the University of Tokyo and Fudan University in Shanghai which support joint projects, collaborations, and exchanges.
EAS majors obtain a variety of internships in fields including journalism, government work, global health, finance, and consulting:
“My summer after freshman year, I taught English in Hunan's Xiangxi Prefecture through Princeton in Asia's Summer of Service. Many of my students were considered ethnic minorities, and the towns they came from were not developing as fast as other parts of China. I ended up going back again and leading a trip during the summer after sophomore year.”
“For fall break of junior year I went to Shanghai with a seminar I was taking. We were looking at how the city's architecture reflected its history and culture over the past 150 years. The experience helped me develop my fall JP on domestic tourism development through the lens of travel magazines.”
“Most of us spend our time working and living in East Asia, but we go other places as well. I did a summer internship at an HIV foundation in New Delhi, India through Princeton in Asia.”