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From Latin dancing, he pivoted to gerontology and helping the elderly

19 May 2023

The dancer was enroute to becoming a personal trainer when he decided to explore a less well-known field, gerontology. 
Uncover how Temasek Polytechnic student Ethan Khoo found his niche.
By Sabrina Lee

Ethan Khoo, a student in his third year at Temasek Polytechnic (TP), has always been passionate about fitness, dance and the movement of the body. 
His talent for Latin dance was apparent from the age of seven and led him to compete in various countries, including Hong Kong, India, and Thailand.
As he continued to dance competitively, Ethan became more aware of his body and its movements. As an ectomorph, he found it challenging to gain muscle and realised he needed to bulk up to improve his appearance on stage. 
“I sought help from a friend who was a fitness trainer, and together we developed a specialised workout plan,” says Ethan. His friend also taught him about proper nutrition and how to track his progress.

Through hard work and dedication, Ethan began to see significant improvements in his physique over time. This transformative experience inspired him to want to help others overcome their own limitations.

Building on his strengths to help others

Ethan was always in the zone on the dance floor and at the gym, but it was a different matter in the classroom. “While learning about Mathematics in class, I could not see its purpose in relation to my career goals,” he explains of the questions he had with learning since his primary school days, especially with Maths; “I couldn’t grasp the concepts no matter how hard I tried.” 
After his N Levels, he leapt to pursue a Nitec course in Fitness Training at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) over the more linear choice of sitting for his O Levels. 
For the first time, he felt confident and excited about learning. “Even though my mother was a little disappointed, she didn’t make an issue out of it and was encouraged that there was a course that I was interested in.”  
It turned out to be the right choice for him. Ethan felt at home in class, and especially enjoyed problem-solving during practicals where he rehabilitated individuals experiencing joint injuries. He found himself willingly reading up his course materials and practising the skills needed to become a fitness trainer.
It was also at ITE where he discovered his passion for gerontology.

Supporting the health and wellness of the older generation

From Latin dancing, he pivoted to gerontology and helping the elderly 2

Ethan encourages his clients to extend themselves during their workouts aimed at enhancing their strength and mobility.

Young students like Ethan pursuing a study of ageing are relatively rare. So, what motivated him to want to help people maintain their health and independence as they age? 

During his fitness programme design module at ITE, Ethan worked with a 47-year-old client who led a sedentary lifestyle, which affected her flexibility and range of motion. “Becoming aware of her physical limitations made me curious about how our bodies change as we get older.” 

This unlocked his curiosity about the physical aspects of ageing, so when he graduated from ITE, he made a beeline for TP’s Diploma in Social Science in Gerontology. 

 To convince his mother about what looked like yet another detour in his goals, Ethan explained that this was an extension of his fitness interest, plus there was a growing need for healthcare workers due to the ageing population. 

While Ethan was sharing his reasons, it triggered a memory in his mother’s mind: Ethan was just three and a half years old and it was dismissal time at kindergarten. Amidst the noisy crowds of parents, helpers and relatives waiting to pick the children up, there was an elderly person sitting in a wheelchair. Ethan walked up to the woman and asked with concern, “Are you all right?” She reminded him of how even at that young age, he had a heart for the elderly. His newfound motivation made sense to them right then. 

Having applied for the polytechnic through the Early Admissions Exercise (EAE), Ethan secured a conditional offer of admission based on how well he was doing at ITE.

Moving to his own beat – university can wait

Ethan’s journey from dancing to fitness training to gerontology speaks volumes about his passion for understanding the human body and its potential for wellness throughout life.
Although he had plans to compete in Italy this year, Ethan is currently focusing on his Student Internship Programme (SIP) at Touch Community Services, where he works as a medical escort accompanying clients who need assistance with their hospital visits.
When asked about his plans for further studies, Ethan says that he is more interested in acquiring practical experience and upgrading his skills through certifications and workshops: “I want to take small steps towards achieving my goals instead of rushing to pursue a university degree.”

He relishes the freedom to learn at his own pace, adding “Discovering one’s strengths and weaknesses and using that information to make the most of our educational journey is what learning should be about.”

Watch Ethan in conversation with Education Minister Chan Chun Sing here:

For more stories on following one’s own pathway:

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