Thirty Kids in Thirty Years: Gayle Fox Brings The World To Waxhaw Through Exchange Student Hosting

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Gayle Fox may live in Waxhaw, but she’s been “mom” to kids from all over the world. Through AFS Intercultural Programs, Gayle has hosted 30 long-term students, and many others for short periods of time. As a single mom in the mid-1980’s, Gayle’s parenting days were almost over when she discovered international hosting. Ever since then, there’s never been an empty nest.

In the Spring of 1985, Gayle was playing tennis with a teacher from Tennessee who was filling in at her school, West Charlotte. During their game, the teacher mentioned that her son had been killed, near their home, in a traffic accident at age 16. Gayle immediately said, “that is the most horrific thing I can think of, having your child die. As a parent, how do you handle something like that?” The teacher told Gayle that it had been very difficult, but that her work with young people in AFS had helped her function and work through her grief.

Gayle asked the teacher what ASF was, and she told Gayle it was a foreign exchange program. Then, Gayle said, “Out of my mouth popped, ‘I’ve always wanted to do that,’ which is quite surprising as I never knew I wanted to do that.” Gayle thought that she might not be eligible as a host family since she was a single parent. But the teacher told Gayle it didn’t matter. The next day she brought Gayle an application. Gayle said, “I’m still amazed that she had an application with her since she lived in Tennessee!”

Gayle Fox keeps pictures of her exchange students in a display she calls her “gallery.”

Before applying, Gayle talked with her biological daughter and her unofficially-adopted black daughter, who had been living with them for years. They thought it would be interesting to have someone international in their home, and everyone felt like they could pull together as a family to make it work. They applied immediately.

Their first host year was for the 1985-86 school year. The student was from Germany and had a German mother and African father. But there was a glitch in the pairing. Even though the student reported that she liked sports, she wasn’t prepared for how much the Fox family’s life revolved around sports at that time. She started staying home to watch TV instead of hanging out with the family at sporting events. “Needless to say,” Gayle said, “she became quite unhappy and requested to be moved.” Gayle’s feelings were hurt badly, as she had tried to make the student happy. She said, “I felt that I was a failure and was not planning to ever host again.”

However, the following year, the local chapter of AFS had a crisis situation. A student needed to be moved from her home. Since she was in Gayle’s school district, the organization gave the Fox family a call. At first, Gayle said no, since one of her daughter Shelly’s high school friends had moved in with them by that time. But the agency was desperate and asked if she could temporarily sleep on the sofa until they found her a new home. Gayle relented.

“So they brought her over the following evening, and it was if a ray of sunshine had walked in,” Gayle said. The student remained with the Fox family for the rest of the year, and they are still very close. “Shelly and I went to Argentina to visit her, and she’s been back to visit us two times. The last time was with her husband and two daughters.”

Since that time, Gayle has hosted one or two students nearly every year. “I never picked a student early but took one of the ones that might be left and unable to come to the States unless someone would host them,” Gayle says. More recently, she has become the “Rescue Mom.” There have been a number of students that Gayle rescued from situations that either didn’t work for them or their families. Fortunately, they have all worked out for Gayle.

Gayle said, “I have always loved working with teenagers as well as just being a mom. I think I help them grow a lot while they live here. One of my German son’s mother was so sweet when she said, ‘I sent you a boy, and you sent me back a young man.’”

Since 1986 Gayle has hosted 30 kids long-term and many others for short periods, which range from one day to six weeks. Sometimes a student needs a place to stay during a transition until they can get settled again. Gayle has four German sons, which is the most from any one country. She has three Chinese and two Swiss daughters. She has also hosted two Portuguese sons, a Swedish son and currently has a Swedish daughter. Other kids have come from Thailand, Pakistan, Dominican Republic, Panama, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, Chile and Argentina.

Gayle is still in contact with most of them and has been to visit several. She has attended three international weddings. One of her Swiss daughters married a guy from Mint Hill that she met while living with Gayle. He has now moved to Switzerland with his Swiss wife and their two boys. Students have also come back to the US to visit Gayle. Some have even met each other, which is always a special event for Gayle. She concluded, “Knowing all of these families from different countries has meant the world- no pun intended- to me and my family.”

Anyone interested in hosting an exchange student should email Carrie Nelson at More information is also available on AFS’s website,

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Annie Beth Donahue lives in Indian Trail, North Carolina with her husband Brad, and four children. She is a professional writer for both the web and print, and she can be found at

Annie Beth also has a bachelor's degree in music therapy from Queens University of Charlotte, and has either been working with or parenting children with special needs for the past 18 years. She is a children's book author and the founder and president of Signposts Ministries, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that serves families that have children with chronic health problems or disabilities. In her non-working time, she homeschools and oversees the children's care of their small menagerie made up of chickens, two donkeys, a dog, a cat, and a snake.