The seven "secrets" that make the Tennessee Valley a desirable location for expats

By: Christian Höferle

The second question future expats usually ponder is: “Can I see myself living there?”
Not always are the destinations for a foreign assignment exactly bucket list locations. Depending on your home culture, your international job assignment, and your expectations for an expatriate experience, some places can be downright deal-breakers when deciding whether to accept a foreign position - while others are sometimes seen as dream destinations.

What’s the first question then, you ask? Well, I suggest it is: “Do I really want to do this? Am I ready for this?”
That’s a conversation to have with yourself or with your partner/family around a kitchen table.

Once my wife and I made the decision to leave Munich, Germany, where we had been living for more than seven years, we were both very much convinced that we wanted to “do this” and that we were “ready for this.”
It became a choice between Berlin and... wait for it... Cleveland. No, not the one in the U.S. State of Ohio. We were looking at the second biggest Cleveland. The one in the Tennessee Valley.

Since that’s such a no-brainer decision, the next step for us was to figure out how the heck two 30-something city slickers would be able to adjust to a life in small-town East Tennessee. Both, my wife and I, grew up in small towns in Southern Germany and were happy to “upgrade” our lives as young adults by moving to the next bigger city. So upon first sight, the Tennessee Valley looked like a big step back.

The old adage “never judge a book by its cover” is quite applicable to the process of deciding on a foreign assignment. All the apprehension we may have had about our new home abroad has made way for the realization that Southeast Tennessee can be a pretty awesome place to live.

Here is why.

  1. The weather

    Sure, Florida is a nice vacationing spot but if you prefer seasonal changes the greater Chattanooga area is a much nicer place to be. The summers are long and typically can get rather hot (95-100ºF | 35-38ºC) and sometimes humid. If you hail from Central Europe you may have to get used to these temperatures - very soon you’ll never want to miss them. The spring and fall (autumn) seasons are usually rather mild and the foliage weeks in the Valley create some breathtaking and colorful landscapes. The winters might be the only dreadful time of year as they remind me of the chilly and rainy Novembers of Bavaria. The upside: It rarely get’s below freezing point and if there’s ever snow it’s gone in a few hours most of the time.

    A view into the Chattanooga Valley, below Lookout Mountain, in the fall.
    A view into the Chattanooga Valley, below Lookout Mountain, in the fall.

  2. Nature

    During thousands of years the Tennessee River and its tributaries have cut beautiful gorges into the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. This means there are lots of waterways for swimming, boating, fishing, and all other kinds of outdoor activities, e.g.: Whitewater Rafting on the Ocoee River, a site of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. The Appalachian hills are terrific for hiking, mountain biking, hunting, or camping.

    Getting close to the 'Broken Nose,' 'Diamond Splitter,' and 'Table Saw' rapids on the Ocoee River.
    Getting close to the 'Broken Nose,' 'Diamond Splitter,' and 'Table Saw' rapids on the Ocoee River.

  3. The small(er) cities

    Of course you are a fan of New York, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. I am too. So are also millions of tourists who let the experiences they made in large U.S. cities determine their image of what this country is like. However, it is the small cities that provide us with a more accurate picture of the United States, its people, and its culture. Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville, or Ashville are simply great places to live and to visit.

    Aerial view of the Tennessee River, North Shore and Downtown Chattanooga, and Lookout Mountain in the background.
    Aerial view of the Tennessee River, North Shore and Downtown Chattanooga, and Lookout Mountain in the background.

  4. Chattanooga

    This city once was the “Dynamo of Dixie” and in the 1960s turned into the dirtiest and most polluted town in America. There was an exodus of people who saw no future in this place until the 1980s when local leaders developed a plan to turn Chattanooga around. Like the proverbial Phoenix from the ashes, the “Scenic City” now is the poster child of urban renewal. Nowadays it is also the “Gig City” - because it is the only place in North America where you can get a fiber optic internet connection with up to 1GB downstream capacity. Chattanooga was also recently named the Top Small City in the U.S. for Young Entrepreneurs. There is this “Can Do’ spirit which carried this town through the decades of decay and back up. An attitude worth catching.

  5. The economy

    Yes, the economy. Not all regions of the United States were hit in the same way by the great recession. The Chattanooga area has been very fortunate to have attracted international companies like Volkswagen, Alstom, Wacker Chemie, Komatsu, and their suppliers who have been investing heavily in the region, building new production sites and providing employment for tens of thousands of people.

    Crossing the Tennessee River on the Walnut Street Bridge is only possible by foot or by bike. Built in 1890, it is one of the world's longest pedestrian bridges.
    Crossing the Tennessee River on the Walnut Street Bridge is only possible by foot or by bike. Built in 1890, it is one of the world's longest pedestrian bridges.

  6. The cultural change

    With this influx of international companies the Tennessee Valley has been experiencing a very interesting cultural shift. While most of the Appalachian regions had been fairly untouched by outside influences for the past, say, 200 years, now the established population which largely stems from Scotch-Irish immigration is increasingly mixing with people from all over the Americas and from Europe. There has been a big push by Germans, Swiss, and Austrians which has given the Chattanooga area a destinct German accent. Not always do these different mentalities gel well right away. It makes for a dynamic environment, though.

    Since 2005, Bavarian and Tennessean cultures are coming together at the annual Maifest
    Since 2005, Bavarian and Tennessean cultures are coming together at the annual Maifest

  7. The people

    It is the region’s proverbial Southern Hospitality which makes the cultural adaptation process so exciting. While you may feel that New York, London, Berlin, Moscow, or Tokyo can be a little bit abrasive at times, here in the Old South people still value their manners and most of them work hard on keeping it that way. Sometimes this will appear old-fashioned, even conservative - most of the time it is very charming and welcoming. Even 150 years after the Civil War the people of the South still make it a point to let you know that they are different from the rest of the country. Don’t let any Yankee tell you anything else.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingChristian Höferle is a German expat living in USA. Blog description: Interpreting German-American differences in the Tennessee Valley (by Christian Höferle)
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Contest Comments » There are 14 comments

Brigitta wrote 9 years ago:

Well put, Christian! Thanks to you and your expertise in intercultural training, I am a successful international business owner located in Southeast Tennessee!

Christian Höferle wrote 9 years ago:

Thank you for your nice comments. Feel free to add your insiders' tips. I might compile them in another article in the future. And yes, William, there are some downers, too. Care to suggest some of yours? Who knows, that might be the next blog post... Again: Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing!

Dietmar Glodde wrote 9 years ago:

Great article, Christian. Thanks for sharing. So far I have always been passing by Chattanooga on my way up to Illinois but the nature and landscape has always invited me to stop. So I will come up an visit.

Anju Wilson wrote 9 years ago:

Great article Christian! Tennessee Valley is great for growing families as well! I moved from Toronto, Canada and enjoying living in this part of America.

William Birdwell wrote 9 years ago:

Hi Christian I follow your blog on a regular basis. Liked your article and you have even kindled my interest in Chattanooga! I am from Nashville but I have been living in Europe for more than 30 years now. I really appreciate your upbeat positive style of seeing the world. Most of Europe could do with a dose of that now. Could you tell us what are some of the downers in living in the Tennessee valley?

Melissa Hahn wrote 9 years ago:

Bravo, Christian. I admit that I am always a little bit nervous when I start to read a post about the US by an outsider. So often it seems that people merely see what they expect to see, based more on stereotypes and film clichés rather than the organic, complex society that they actually encounter. This is even truer, I think, when it comes to overlooked regions like the South and the Appalachians. Yet, as I read your post, I realized that I had no need to worry. You are no longer an outsider, as you have clearly made a concerted effort to learn about your new home's history and appreciate all that it has to offer in the present day. I have been to Tennessee many times and am always struck by how beautiful it is, and was aware of the changes taking place in your state and in the region, particularly due to auto manufacturing, but even so, I found that I was able to learn a great deal from your blog post! I hope you will continue writing about your insights on life in the US. You have a lot to offer, not only to expats, but to those of us who have long called this country our home. Looking forward to more!

Henri Tenthorey wrote 9 years ago:

Great artical Christian, There is one more important thing Chattanooga is good for...romance. I met my southern belle wife Linda 8 years ago at her Choo Choo shop while on an aerospace business trip from Sacramento. Not long after I proposed to her on the Walnut Street Bridge and we got married at Lake Tahoe. I chose to move to Chattanooga instead of her moving west, thats how much I liked this town. As a dual American Swiss citizen originally schooled in Zurich, now I work at Alstom and speak German and dialect every day with my fellow expat coworkers. Who would have ever thought? Thanks Chattanooga!

Jenn White wrote 9 years ago:

Wonderful article, so good to see our area through foreign eyes! All the things you mention are reasons some of us "Yankees" have made the TN River Valley our home as well.

Cheryl Bailey wrote 9 years ago:

Great article Christain!

Frank Kohler wrote 9 years ago:

Christian, Excellent article, congratulations. My family and I moved to East Tennessee 7 years ago. While my wife initially didn't want to stay more than two years, it is her who doesn't want to go back now! The people with their Southern Hospitality certainly make a difference. In addition, the small town environment makes us Germans some times a bit 'exotic', so finding friends and getting in contacts with others is easier. Now we just have to see how we get decent bread!

Gerd Meissner wrote 9 years ago:

Thank you for putting this together, Christian - it came in handy for a German-language post for business readers in Europe that I was just preparing at the Germany-USA Career Center. So I quoted you as a local expert on all things Chattanooga, with a link on to this Expat Blog entry. Great the good "bridge-building" job!

Joerg wrote 9 years ago:

Christian, how about taxes there? Here in California they are almost fleecing us. We pay nearly 4$k/year just in property taxes for a regular home. It's insane, and quite frankly, long term we are looking for "greener grass". This time we'd be free to locate where we want and TN is nicely Republican, so that would be a good thing :-)

Elise wrote 9 years ago:

Christian, this is some really great information that is very nicely presented. I was very excited and interested to learn about all the progress in the area. Thank you for your insight.

James V Lyon Jr wrote 9 years ago:

Christian, I agree with you regarding eastern Tennessee, but Berlin is pretty cool also. Chattanooga is my first city and Berlin is a close second.

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