it was in the stress and emotional upheaval of my first term at Cambridge that I came to appreciate songs in my mother tongue in a new wayalisa santikarn

Music has a strange way of touching us. Often it is a particular lyric that resonates with our experiences. Other times, a soundscape that we step into, finding something in the melodies and harmonies that strikes a note we can’t express; something we had been searching for without knowing what we hoped to find. The language of a song’s lyrics, however, is rarely thought of as the emotionalising element of a track: language is there as a tool to convey the emotions carried by the lyrics or heighten the mood set by the music.

Yet it was in the stress and emotional upheaval of my first term at Cambridge that I came to appreciate songs in my mother tongue in a new way—one tied almost purely to the fact that the lyrics were written in German. Cheesy German pop songs stood on a level with my favourite artists as they all became a way of remaining in touch with my home country, Austria.

In moments when I felt distant from myself, a text from my best friend with a song recommendation would help me find my way backAlisa Santikarn

The transformation of the way I experienced music coincided with the busy socialising of Freshers’ Week and the rest of Michaelmas. It was during this time that German and Austrian music started to become a kind of glue to budding friendships. Walking down Tennis Court Lane at night, singing the lyrics, “Du ziehst nervös an deiner Zigarette...” from the song ‘Du trägst keine Liebe in dir’ by Echt, or crying together while watching the music video to ‘Deine Nähe tut mir weh’ by Revolverheld opened up a whole new way of experiencing music.

German music helped me to understand how formative years spent abroad didn’t have to create a breach with my ‘home identity’

Never before had these songs touched me so deeply or been so important to me. I was gradually understanding that this had to do not only with the songs themselves, but also that they were becoming a way to reconcile my ‘home identity’ with the life I was living in Cambridge. The distance between home and university seemed to grow smaller as friendships grew stronger; friendships that were, to a certain degree, formed by listening to German music.

Never before had these songs touched me so deeply or been so important to meAlisa Santikarn

Sharing a mother tongue with friends meant more than just being able to understand how the other might be feeling as a fellow international student. It also meant being able to bond over shared experiences tied to media in our mother tongue: films, TV shows, and, above all, music. Songs were not just enjoyed or consumed, they became a way to acknowledge our backgrounds without having to discuss them openly. Music helped create a silent feeling of understanding and solidarity between us.

A shared taste in music is particularly fertile ground for moving from the ‘acquaintance’ status of Freshers’ WeekAlisa Santikarn

To me, German music was not necessarily a way of dealing with homesickness. Rather, it helped me to understand how formative years spent abroad didn’t have to create a breach with my ‘home identity’. Music was a stabilising force. In moments when I felt distant from myself, a text from my best friend with a song recommendation would help me find my way back, back to a base from which I could see how my sense of self was connected to a changed understanding of the concept of ‘home’. At the same time, this new significance of music helped deepen my friendships.


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There are many elements to forming friendships. Undeniably, shared interests rank among the most important. A shared taste in music is particularly fertile ground for moving from the ‘acquaintance’ status of Freshers’ Week towards forming the lifelong friendships we all hope to find at university.  When considering the deep lyrics and artistic abilities often to be found in music, this is hardly surprising. Talking about songs is a gateway into discussing profound themes; it makes it easy to spot kindred spirits.

While I was aware of all of this, I had not expected that the language of a song’s lyrics could prove to be an important element of my enjoyment of music. It is distance which seems to make the heart grow fonder (of German music), and I am immensely grateful for the way in which listening to songs of all genres, all united by the language of their lyrics, has allowed me to settle into life abroad. And, of course, for the power of sad German songs in helping me find incredible friends

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