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What’s on the Radio? Around the World in Song with UW FLAS Fellows (part 1 of 2)

August 11, 2017

Songs represent a unique and effective means of learning language–there is repetition of words and grammar, the language is conversational, they include idiomatic expressions, and they are easier to remember than normal speech.  (How many of you can remember nothing from your high school foreign language class but the song(s) you learned)?  Inspired by this and my own love of music, I decided to ask the UW Foreign Language & Area Studies (FLAS) fellows what songs they’ve learned this summer.


Sarah Rinehart at the ocean in Florianopolis, Brazil

Sarah Rinehart at the ocean in Florianopolis

Sarah Rinehart (Major: Public Health, FLAS: Global Studies, Portuguese) shares two songs that are popular this summer in Florianopolis, Brazil, where she is studying Portuguese at the Step1 Idiomas program:

“Trem Bala” by Ana Vilela, and

“Paradinha” by Anitta


Benjamin Kanter (MA International Studies, FLAS: Global Studies, Portuguese) writes from Belém, Brazil:

“Here is a song from one of the most important musical styles in Belém and the surrounding region. The style is called Carimbó and the particular song “No Meio do Pitiú” has become known nationally due to its inclusion in a novela (nationally televised sitcom). The very name employs a regional vocabulary, and the videos and lyrics are truly unique to Belém.”


Lily Zhao with her host mom, Esther, in Dar Es Salaam

Lily Zhao with her host mom, Esther, in Dar Es Salaam

Lily Zhao (MA Marine & Environmental Affairs, FLAS: Global Studies, Swahili) is studying Swahili this summer at the Taaluma Institute in Dar Es Salaam and the Iringa Swahili School in Iringa, Tanzania.  She writes:

“The popular singer, Saida Karoli, has returned to East Africa’s music scene with a new release that combines Haya, Swahili and English. This song blends traditional styles with references to some of bongo flava’s (Tanzanian hip-hop) current hits. The songs name, “Orugambo”, means ‘talks’ in Haya, a Bantu language spoken by the Haya people. Luckily my Swahili teacher grew up near the village in northwestern Tanzania that Saida Karoli comes from and helped me to understand the Haya lyrics. He also showed me the similarities between Haya and Swahili sentence construction. Although “Orugambo” is mostly about love, it also speaks to the blending of cultures (see the lines after Nkagenda Dai Salamu, Nabonoyo ebintu bingi…) .”




Key MacFarlane (PhD Geography, FLAS: West Europe, German) reports that “Blau” by Amanda is very popular in Berlin this summer.


Erika Meyer (Major: Music, FLAS: West Europe, Italian) studied Italian at the Koine Center in Lucca, Italy, and Italian and voice at the Music in the Marche program in Mondavio, Italy.

Erika Meyer (fourth from left) with classmates at the Music in the Marche program, Mondavio, Italy

Erika Meyer (fourth from left) with classmates at the Music in the Marche program, Mondavio, Italy

She writes:

“While “Va pensiero” from Giussepe Verdi’s Nabucco may seem slightly heavy to describe the fabulous and unforgettable trip I had in Italy, it is the last song my fellow colleagues and I performed at the Music in the Marche program in Mondavio, Italy.

“Va pensiero,” also known as the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves, is from Verdi’s famous opera Nabucco which premiered in 1842. Nabucco is a story showcasing the struggle and oppression of the Hebrew slaves under the Babylonian King. During the time period when the opera was written, Northern Italy (as Italy was still in nation states) was struggling under the oppression of Austrian control. So, in 1842, when the third act of Nabucco arrived and the chorus of Hebrew slaves began singing “Va pensiero,” the Italians recognized the analogy—they were in fact the Hebrew slaves and the Austrian Empire was the repressive Babylonian King.

Because of Verdi’s mastery, from then on “Va pensiero” became a sort of anthem to the Italian people, and one that was very near and dear to the Italian hearts we sang to that last night of the concert. It was the perfect end to an intensive but extremely rewarding four weeks in Mondavio—and it was one of the happiest moments of the trip!  Standing hand in hand with my new-made friends and colleagues, singing for the final time in the tiny theater that had become so familiar throughout the duration of our program in this tiny, magical town, we attempted to sing through to the end of the chorus even though an elderly Italian man was loudly shouting “Brava! Brava!” in the back of the theater.

This song perfectly encompasses Italy, Mondavio, and the wonderful music and experiences I was able to make throughout my stay in the Music in the Marche program with the aid of the FLAS fellowship!”


South Korea

Rachel Paik with pandas, Seoul, South Korea

Rachel Paik, Seoul, South Korea

Rachel Paik (Major: International Studies, FLAS: East Asia, Korean), writes that “Mohae” (What’s Up?) is a very popular song in Seoul right now.  “Mohae” is about a guy trying to gather the courage to ask “What’s up?” to a girl he likes.


Sarah Leibson with friends in Insadong, a tourist area of Seoul

Sarah Leibson (second from left), with friends in Insadong, a tourist-oriented area of Seoul. They are wearing the traditional Korean hanbok.

Sarah Leibson (Major: International Studies, FLAS: East Asia, Korean) writes from Seoul, where she is studying Korean at Seoul National University.  She writes:

“While this song didn’t come out this summer, you can still hear it played in every cafe and outside of every store in Korea. This song is about a girl who is playing hard to get from a boy that likes her and so she tells him to “cheer up” because she will probably end up liking him. My Korean friends now like to say “cheer up” a lot but not always in the right English context. The phrase “cheer up” now has its own unique Korean meaning and usage.”



Thai classes, Southeast Asia Studies Summer Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Summer 2017

Jahn Jaramillo (front row, third from left) with Thai classmates, teachers and families at SEASSI, 2017

Jahn Jaramillo (MPH Global Health, FLAS: Southeast Asia, Thai) learned and performed with his classmates at SEASSI this summer the ‘Loy Krathong’ Thai festival song.  The Loy Kratong festival usually occurs in November, and participants float leaf containers (kratong) full of flowers, candles and incense.  A translation of the song is available here.



Katia Chaterji (back row, fourth from left) and Karen Villeda, front row, center) with students and teachers of Indonesian at SEASSI 2017

Katia Chaterji (back row, fourth from left) and Karen Villeda (front row, center) with students and teachers of Indonesian at SEASSI 2017

Katia Chaterji (PhD History, FLAS: Southeast Asia, Indonesian) sent the photo above of the students and teachers of Indonesian at the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The photo was taken on the SEASSI cultural night, when the students performed a short Sundanese dance and gamelan piece.  Katia writes that one of her favorite parts of SEASSI this summer was the Indonesian movie nights.  Some of her favorites films were:

Habibie & Ainun (a love story about Indonesia’s third president and his wife)

Tanda Tanya (a film with the theme of religious pluralism in Indonesia)

Sokola Rimba (set amongst the Rimba people of southeast Sumatra)

Pendekar Tongkat Emas (a martial arts film)

A song from the film Habibie & Ainun is “Bunga Citra Lestari”:


Karen Villeda (MMA Marine & Environmental Affairs, FLAS: Southeast Asia, Indonesian) and her SEASSI classmates performed the song “Singkong dan Keju” on karaoke.  She writes, “I had a wonderfully immersive experience at SEASSI, and the instructors went above and beyond to provide us with opportunities to apply our new language skills.”

FLAS Fellowships are funded by the International and Foreign Language Education Office of the U.S. Department of Education. FLAS fellowships support undergraduate, graduate and professional students in acquiring modern foreign languages and area or international studies competencies. Students from all UW departments and professional schools are encouraged to apply. Find out more about the FLAS Fellowship here.