Voices of the Bay

Building Bridges

Barrington’s Ronnie Newman coordinates foreign exchange programs that make lasting bonds

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For over 34 years, Ronnie Newman of Barrington has made it her mission to bridge the lives of foreign high school students with those of everyday American families as a coordinator for the American Field Service and the Council on International Educational Exchange. A graduate of Lesley College, Ronnie was an administrative assistant for 22 years at Brown University. To learn more about hosting a foreign high school student, contact Ronnie at RonnieLovesParis@gmail.com.

"In 1962, I traveled with my Girl Scouts Troop from Fall River to Europe. We lived with Girl Guides [which is what Girl Scouts are called in Europe] who had been our pen pals. We went to the worldwide headquarters of Girl Guides in Switzerland. I fell in love with the country. I came home a much worldlier thinking person. When I was in college, I returned on a summer program and lived with a Swiss family. We were from totally different backgrounds. Fifty-one years later my Swiss sister and I have seen each other almost every year, either here, there, or we meet somewhere.

Over the years I have placed probably close to 1,000 kids. I recently saw a student in Istanbul, Turkey, I had placed at Mt. Hope High School over 10 years ago. He is a now a financial analyst. He has worked for Pepsi Cola, Coca-Cola, and now Hasbro. He credits all of his success with his year in Bristol and his experience at Mt. Hope. One of his hosts was a retired business man in his 80s, a widower. They just clicked. Another student, Eduardo from Brazil, lived with a Bristol family. He broke every running record at Mt. Hope. He’s an electrical engineer now and came back often to visit the family.

When the host father passed away, Eduardo immediately got on a plane to travel to the funeral and was even listed as family in the obituary. Students don’t expect their own bedroom and bathroom. It’s about the experience with the hosts and the community.

This work gives me a sense of bringing the world together, which is more important now than ever. We have kids from so many war-torn countries. If they come here and live with a family from a different background, maybe one that their country is fighting at home, they are now in the same house, using the same toilet, the same table. It’s a lot harder to go home and go to war. Students arrive as ambassadors of their own countries, but they get to know real Americans who are friendly, caring, intelligent, and creative people who many times will stay in their lives. Often when students return home they have become ambassadors of our country."