Meet Emily Tan: Aerial Ninja

Emily Tan – A TC Aerial Ninja!


It’s not often you meet an “Aerial Ninja”, let alone someone as well traveled and influenced by so many different cultures.


Third Culture sat down with Emily and asked her about what “home” meant to her:

“During middle school and high school, I was constantly reminded of where my home is by wildly opinionated white people, which is “wherever I came from”.  When I eventually did move back to Malaysia with my dad, my heart was tied to my mom, family and friends I grew up with in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Those experiences during adolescence set a baseline for what a home is.”

“ET” is sometimes how I feel – but its also my initials!

It’s been about 12 years now since I left America, and this ET still hasn’t found home the same way she remembers it (my initials are ET).   I moved to the states when I was 13 years old learning that I would either have to adapt fairly quick or forever be considered the FOB with a funny accent.  My parents had to adapt their parenting styles too –  this makes me giggle still, the memory my mom trying to punish me American style by “grounding’ me and I remember thinking to myself that the punishment would really have done better if she just continued caning me like she did in Malaysia, because the “grounding” thing was way too easy for me to manipulate.  I promise I was a lovely geeky child though.

Home is a realm I hardly fantasize about anymore.  Don’t get me wrong that I am a cynic but rather, it is a realistic conclusion that home is constantly morphing and adapting to our lives.  It is probably also a typical thing to hear from someone of a broken family, we hold on to whatever we have left, where our family members matters more than a pin on the map.  I’m still an optimistic girl and I play along.  With each city I move to and settle in, a different kind of home is created, particularly Hong Kong.


It all comes down to your experiences, the memories created and how you develop from lessons learned.  How we choose to respond in terms of warmth or frustration determine the kind of home we are building in our hearts.  During my time in Hong Kong, events and experiences result in bonds stronger than ever with my friends; they are my family in Hong Kong.  On top of my family left in Malaysia, our team at Viva Vertical are my family; they are one of the only other reasons why I fly back.
On the contrary, the experiences through living among another culture might reinforce where you DON’T consider home.  I’m in my 5th new city Dubai now for a few months and I have never felt so strongly about establishing my ethnicity as Chinese.  This is where it is difficult for my partner to relate because we can assume he was never judged, treated with unfavorable opinions or paid less based on his passport.  Customs and cultures are easier to adapt with when there is respect but understanding what it is like for your partner facing prejudice is a challenging area.  After all, if you can relate to how your partner feels, how can you relate to how your future kids feel?
Growing up, I mixed around different groups of ethnicity – Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Chinese from china, Japanese, Koreans…etc.  America is a great hub that forms little cliches of people who feel immediately at home when they hear their own languages spoken.  English is my first language though I can still relate that there’s always that twinge of excitement when you meet someone of your own nationality or ethnicity.  Being in Dubai, I notice I relate very well to people who understand what it is like being dealt the prejudice card, most of them are also in my professional field.

This Ninja’s got dance moves as well!

Despite that annoyance, they are still successful professionals who love what they do and they have the kinda of heart I like to be close to.  Luckily for me, these are also people who took it upon themselves to learn, live and respect the local customs.  They are who I consider “locals” and with that perspective, if we all attempt to be locals more often  we would develop far better understanding for each other.  What I am attempting to understand at the moment is the typical lifestyle and childhood of an Emirati, and how they prioritize wellness.

So Ninja…

You can follow Emily on her instagram:  @theemilytan



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