Nagwan Zahry says she's pretty sure her nickname was a sign that she was destined for Chattanooga.
Her father is Egyptian, her mother is French, and Zahry's nickname since childhood has been 'Nouga,' which is an Egyptian word for a sweet dessert. Last year, when it became clear that she was bound for the Scenic City, that was the source of quite a lot of levity, she says.
"It was meant to be," she says. "My friends all laughed and said, 'Nouga, you are moving to 'Nooga!'"
Zahry, assistant professor of communication at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, grew up in Egypt and came to the U.S. in 2012 to pursue her Ph.D. in communication at Michigan State University in East Lansing. When she went looking for her next move, she had two offers: One at Cornell University in Ithica, New York, and the other at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She visited Chattanooga in April 2018, and quickly noticed one thing.
"I loved the sunshine," she says. "It was sunny, and everyone was wearing short sleeves."
She was also taken by the friendliness of the people she met. She came to town to interview and stayed at the Read House. That first morning, she walked out of the hotel with no sense of where she was or where she might end up for breakfast. She found a little downtown diner, wandered in and chatted with the owner while she ate. When she left, he wouldn't let her pay.
"People gave me free breakfast because I was new in town," she says. "People are so friendly here."
But there are hurdles. The small-town feel she loves also means the city is somewhat insular, and it's been tough to make close friends, she says. She meets a lot of retirees and young families, but not many singles her age. And for many of her students, she's a startling presence in the classroom, she adds.
"I might be the first international scholar they have seen," she says. "That first week they looked at me like I'm an alien."
Those moments give her the opportunity to expand their thinking a bit, she says.
"I talk about diversity and being accepting," she says. "In the workplace, your director can be anyone. You director may even be Egyptian with a French accent."
Nagwan R. Zahry
* Arrived: Summer 2018 from East Lansing, Michigan
* The draw: Sunshine, friendly people, and a job teaching communication at UTC
* Here for it: “I am not a big-city type of girl. Chattanooga for me is a great size.”
* Less than perfect: “People are super-duper friendly, but it’s so hard to get into a group.”