Ladies and gentlemen you all are in for a treat! I recently connected with fellow third culture kid and global nomad Ella Tran and we discussed everything from our mutual love of digital marketing and New York City to what it is like to live in diverse environments. Her goal is to help people leverage technology to travel more and to better navigate in a globalized and digitally-connected world. You can catch up with her here at her hub. I hope you enjoy the interview and leave comments letting me know what you think.

Tayo Rockson: Can you map out your third culture/ nomadic experience and tell us why you moved so much?

Ella Tran: I have been really lucky to travel since I was only an 8 months old baby. Yes, I flew before I could walk! This is all thanks to my parents’ jobs as diplomats so I get to grow up in embassies and international schools around the world. I was born in Hanoi, Vietnam. Then, I moved to Vienna, Austria. I started elementary school in Geneva, Switzerland. I spent middle school years at Lycée Français Alexandre Yersin in Hanoi, Vietnam. For high school and college, I studied in Northern California.

Afterward, I moved to my favorite city in the world New York City for a year and a half to work in the entertainment industry. 

TR: No way! New York City is my favorite City in the world also. I’m just coming up on my one year mark of living here now.

ET: Isn’t it amazing?

TR: It absolutely is! So where are you now?

ET: I’m currently back in my hometown Hanoi and excited to see where the next adventures will lead me.

TR: This is getting crazy! I promise i’m not stalking you but I actually used to live in Hanoi as well! Haha.

ET: Wow! That is too crazy. It really is a small world!

TR: So since you have moved around a lot, where do you consider home?

ET: Haha. Umm that’s a tough one! Am I supposed to say “home is wherever your heart is” or “home is wherever your friends are” ?

TR: Haha that’s an option. Better yet, let me rephrase. Where do YOU feel at home?

ET: I know I keep coming back to this place but there’s actually one place where I feel at home and it’s not where I was born or lived the most however, I feel like I belong to New York City.

Perhaps it’s because it is where I experienced my toughest lessons and craziest memories such as living in a long term hostel, sharing one fridge and 2 bathrooms with 16 people or sleeping on hard wood floor in the winter with ex-convicts! (cheap rent right?!).

Perhaps it’s because New York is where I found my best friends who taught me how to find my own voice, how to tune out society’s judgment, and how to be shamelessly myself.

Or perhaps it’s because New York sums up my travel background. New York, to me, is 1/3 Asian with its pollution, trash, and traffic jams; 1/3 European with its terrace coffee shops, bricks pavements, and art exhibitions; and at the end of the day, it’s still an American city with its workaholic ambitions and hopeful dreams. 

E.B. White wrote that there are 3 New Yorks. There is the New York of the Natives, the New York of the Commuters, and then the New York for the Dreamers in quest of something. “Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last — the city of final destination, the city that is a goal….Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.”

I belong in this last category.

TR: So so true. I moved here on a whim in search for something bigger and better than Lynchburg, Virginia. I loved it there but I was so restless and I dreamed of bigger things so I quit my job and moved. I have not regretted it since. The energy here is infectious and just like the trash and pollution remind you of Asia, the crowds and trash remind me of Lagos, Nigeria my hometown.

ET: Love it! I can completely relate! I’ll be back in NYC for sure!

TR: Do it! So we have covered your favorite city to live in. What are your favorite countries to visit?

ET: Spain is definitely my favorite country to visit for its vibrant lifestyle, culture, and people. I feel like I’m on an eternal vacation there. In the future, I would love to live and work in London and maybe for a change, a small tranquil town like Verona, Italy.

TR: Nice Nice. Transitioning here, how do you think TCK will influence the workplace in the future and globalization in general?

ET: With Tim Ferriss’s book 4-Hour-Week, more and more people are switching to working online and adapting a TCK nomadic lifestyle. There’s also a blooming of virtual and distributed companies where the culture is innovative such as the social media start-up Buffer. Overall, I’m just happy with this trend. It shows that anything is possible. Travel can be a lifestyle, not just reserved for vacations.

One of my favorite quote is “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”

Now, more people are having the opportunities to experience foreign culture first hand. Travel brings people closer and discover that we are more alike than different. I was so scared when I was little that when I grew up, I would have to settle for a “normal” desk job. I’m glad that with technology advancement nowadays, I have the option to continue to travel and never settle down.

TR: As a digital marketer myself, i could not agree with you any more. I know you consider yourself a digital nomad. Can you tell us a little bit about your digital nomad movement?

ET: Sure! I’ll be happy to! Thanks to social media, I get to connect a lot with location independent entrepreneurs. Some of my social media consulting work is purely online. I have also worked in a few co-working spaces so it was interesting to meet the bloggers, lifestyle design entrepreneurs, and other digital nomads. I actually ended up taking online classes through some of the coaches I virtually met such including B-school from Marie Forleo and a Skillshare Pinterest Business class with Nate Ginsburg.

TR: Great! I have read up on Marie’s B-school program and heard great things. I’ll subscribe to her newsletter after this for sure! Some digital entrepreneurs I follow in addition to Tim Ferris are Lewis HowesRyan Deiss, and Kris Gilbertson among many.

ET: Pretty cool! There are so many great lifestyle entrepreneurs out there!

TR: Yup! So you’re obviously a TCK. I’m curious to know when you realized that you were a TCK.

ET: It was on a plane. I was 15 and by myself so the passenger next to me was curious about my background. After hearing me talk, he let me know that I was called a Third Culture Kid. I first thought he meant that I’m from a Third World Country though haha but I later found out what he meant.

TR: Can you talk about some of the challenges you faced growing up and how you dealt with them?

ET: Most of the time, I don’t have any challenges as I’m used to moving and adapting to a new place. Attending international schools also helped me by not only surrounding me with other kids from different nationalities but others with similar travel backgrounds as me. However, I actually experienced cultural shock when I moved to San Francisco, California. I know most people think the city is a cultural mosaic but I did not experience that at all. Most of the people there were born and grew up in the same place so even if their ethnicities are different, I found the culture to be quite homogeneous. I was essentially a fish out of the water.

I dealt with the challenge by moving to another place the moment I could 🙂

Change is the norm for me so I always need to live in transient cities.

TR: What is one piece of advice you can give to a TCKs?

ET: I’m sure if you grew up a TCK, you know this already. The world is a small place. I, somehow, always end up running into the same people.

“People come. People go. Those who matter will stay”

As for best friends and family, with technology and cheap airfare nowadays, it’s really easy to keep in touch with the people who matter the most.

TR: Alright we are almost done here so I’m gonna do some rapid fire questions. You ready?

ET: Let’s do it!

TR: Country you have been to with the best food?

ET: Definitely, America. They have the most authentic food from all the countries around the world – at a cheap price! I cannot believe I’m admitting this here but I’ve been dreaming about Chipotle burritos! (I know. I lived in San Francisco but I prefer Americanized Mexican chain food. Shameful!)

TR: Haha! Favorite music?

ET: I love anything from this electronic & experimental music youtube channel: Majestic Casual I also like John Mayer.

TR: Favorite films?

ET: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight. It’s about meeting new people, love, and travel 🙂

TR: Favorite Books

ET: Reunion by Fred Uhlman. (A book about perspective) An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin (Yes, the actor!) and Hector and the Search for Happiness by François Lelord.

TR: Wow! I’ve had fun just listening to you share stories!

ET: Me too! And trading Hanoi, NYC, and digital media stories too!

TR: Absolutely! Where can we find out more about you and what are you currently up to? I’m a social media addict so you can find me on TwitterInstagramVine, and Medium. you can also find me on my website.

I think most TCKs are scared of the word “permanent” and have ADHD in their jobs as well. 

Here are the projects I’m currently part of:

  • TV Reporter for the International Channel of Vietnam Television VTV4. It’s broadcasted in 30+ countries so if you have cable, try to catch me 🙂
  • Manager for an indie french electro pop artist Jeremy Ekho. You will see him soon at music festivals around the world.
  • Social Media Consulting for a french-based design and branding boutique 8AM Studio.
  • Building a travel magazine for twenty somethings adventurers: Third Culture Hub