T-bird helps bring Colombian musicians to U.S.

World Language Schools founder and CEO Carlos A. Roncal ’75 helped bring 34 Colombian youth to the United States in October 2013 to build cultural understanding through a communication tool more universal than Spanish or English. The members of El Retiro Youth Symphonic Band from rural Antioquia, Colombia, shared the power of music during a weeklong concert series at schools and other venues in Frisco, Texas. For all of the young performers, the trip was their first outside Colombia.

“We created cultural understanding through music, the universal language,” said Roncal, who met the musicians through a language school he operates in Medellin, Colombia. “When I heard them perform and saw how good they were, I wanted to get involved.”

During the Texas trip, the band mixed classic Colombian songs with popular pieces from U.S. bandleaders such as Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. “We really had fun with the music,” Roncal said.

Although he does not play an instrument, Roncal has sung in church and community choirs. He said the musical training made it easier for him to learn Portuguese and French after growing up speaking Spanish in his native Bolivia and English in the United States, where he is a naturalized citizen. “I would sing in Spanish, English, French and Portuguese,” he said. “That’s why my pronunciation in all four languages is pretty good.”

The World Language Schools Music and Culture Department uses a similar strategy in the classroom. “We use songs as a way of teaching languages,” Roncal said. “My language students sing songs every day.”

Roncal said his language skills have opened doors for him during an international career that started at Thunderbird. After graduation, he worked as a financial analyst in Brazil and then Canada for Kimberly-Clark. He also has worked as a marketing director in Mexico for a Swedish software company. Ultimately, he decided to step away from the corporate world to try entrepreneurship. “I wanted to do my own business,” he said. Roncal started as an international business consultant and then launched  World Language Schools about two years ago in Frisco.

The Texas headquarters served as a base for the Colombian trip. Rather than booking hotel rooms for the band, Roncal found host families in the community for each musician. “A hotel keeps you too isolated from the culture and the people,” he said. Following the success of the band’s first tour, Roncal said a follow-up trip to Brazil might be next.




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