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emc alumni emc team floral education inspiration Sep 20, 2023

EMC Coach Sherene S. Tan

A story reflecting the power of education, when passion for flowers and desire to grow meet up

Sherene was born and brought up in Malaysia, where her parents were living after leaving China. As she grew up, she was very interested in all the forms of nature around her and by the time she became a teenager, she started cutting flowers from her sister’s garden and arranging them in whatever type of container that she could find. Once she had completed college, she decided that it was her time to travel and learn more about the world, so moved to the USA, initially to learn to be a graphic designer.  Unfortunately, her timing was not good as she arrived when the recession was growing, and the graphic design course was no longer available to her. However, she was offered a course in an area which was growing, Information Technology and Computing.  This was definitely not the way she wished to go but she realised that this might be where there would be work and security in the future.  She took a temporary job in data entry whilst studying and graduated in Information Systems Management.  After a year, she became fully employed within the company and gained promotion to become a Computer Analyst, something that was much more interesting for her.  By this time, she had settled into life in the States, married and in 1999, her son was born, and she took time off to be at home with him.

Her future pathway into floristry was kick-started by a close friend from college, who had seen her ability to arrange flowers around her home, and really wanted Sherene to do her wedding flowers. Although Sherene said she had no knowledge of what to do, her friend was very insistent, and together they went off to the library to look at as many books as they could, in order to produce the essential floral requirements.  As Sherene herself said, she completed all the designs, putting her own twist on them, as she really wasn’t sure what she was doing. Everyone loved them, and they were a great success.  Others attending the wedding then approached Sherene to do their wedding flowers and florals for other events and, from a very uncertain beginning, a rapidly expanding and successful wedding and events business was created.  Over a period of time, Sherene had become very interested in both Japanese and European styles of floristry and floral design and using this knowledge gained mainly from books within her own work, was what made her stand out from others; as well as her wish to find out as much as possible about what her brides wanted, unknowingly at that time using the five ‘W’s which make up such an important part of the EMC ethos.  The fact that all her designs were bespoke and produced with the one object in mind, to fulfil the dream that each bride had for their wedding day, rather than imposing a certain style of design as the majority of wedding and events specialists were doing at that time, made her stand out, and her business became a great success. Over time, she has worked out of a range of studios, including a basement area, but is delighted that she now has a purpose- built studio at her home, large enough not only to complete her event and wedding florals but which also doubles up as a teaching area.


Sherene had an innate love of nature and that led her to researching Japanese styles of arrangements, where all botanicals are truly respected and given their space within a design.  This also gave her the desire to learn more of the theory involved in creating floral arrangements, leading her to the books on European floristry and studying the work of European masters.  This knowledge came through in her work, and her designs had more transparency and less quantity of material than the American designers around her. Unfortunately, Sherene had a very serious car accident and was in recuperation and rehabilitation for two years.  During this time, she was able to consider what she wanted to do and also what she would be capable of doing following her injuries, and she made the decision to pursue a formal floral education.  Where she had taught herself how to be a successful wedding and events floral design, she realised that there was so much more that she could and should learn, especially on the theory side.

She had heard about EMC from some of her floral friends.  She had always been a great fan of Hitomi Gilliam and considered her to be a great teacher. As she wanted to take every opportunity she could to learn more, she attended a workshop in 2016 taken by Tomas and this was her first acquaintance with him.  She was so impressed with, and excited by, the knowledge that she gained during this three-day workshop, and having in the back of her mind that Hitomi was also involved with EMC at this time, she had no hesitation in going ahead and registering for the next EMC Foundation course. At this time, all the Foundation Courses were taken in person, and she took it in Connecticut, USA in 2017. Due to her upbringing in Malaysia, not only did she speak Malay, but English is the second language spoken by everyone. In discussion, it came out that she also speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, and various regional dialects as well, so she personally found it no problem learning, understanding, and communicating in English but realises that others may not find it quite so easy.

She returned to Maryland after completing the Foundation Course in Connecticut.  She found Tomas’ passion for the subject was contagious, and his ability to convey even the most intricate details in an accessible manner was truly remarkable. The guidance didn’t just stop at the theoretical boundaries; EMC encouraged the students to apply what they had learnt in Foundation to what they completed in Practicum, which really helped to solidify the knowledge gained, and to bridge the gap between the theoretical and practical application.  That knowledge is so ingrained now that Sherene lives and breathes the ethos of EMC in everything she does, without even thinking about it. 

Embarking on the journey of taking the EMC Advanced course in 2018 turned out to be nothing short of a game-changer for Sherene.  She says that it was as if she had stepped into a world of knowledge and opportunities that she had never imagined possible before.  The experience was profound, altering the course of her understanding from an artist’s perspective, and even her aspirations. The course seemed to have been meticulously designed to challenge her preconceptions and ignite her curiosity. The EMC Advanced experience saw the shift in her own self-perception.  As she conquered challenges and absorbed new knowledge, her confidence grew. She found herself more willing to explore new avenues, tackle complex problems, embrace change, and expand her personal creativity.  The course had not only equipped her with valuable knowledge and skills but had also empowered her to navigate and embrace the evolving landscape of her floral world.

What truly set this experience apart was the sense of community among fellow learners.  Engaging in discussions, collaborating on projects, and sharing diverse viewpoints enriched the learning process immensely. The differing perspectives of her peers broadened her horizons and pushed her to think outside her comfort zone.  This collaborative environment fostered a sense of camaraderie that she hadn’t expected, creating lasting connections that extended beyond the duration of the course and continue to this day.  She is very grateful and feels blessed by establishing beautiful friendships throughout her EMC journey.

Looking back, she realises that this course was not just about acquiring knowledge; it was a catalyst for personal and professional growth. It lit up a path that she hadn’t considered before and opened doors to possibilities she had never imagined were available to her. This game-changer experience didn’t end with the final class; it continues to influence her choices, decisions, and endeavours, serving as a reminder of the transformative power of education and the immense potential within each of us to evolve and excel.

Sherene feels that it is truly rewarding and fulfilling to be involved in imparting knowledge, shaping minds, and making a positive impact on the lives of students.  Watching them grow, learn, develop their skills and creativity over time is incredibly gratifying.  She appreciates and cherishes the chance to contribute to the growth and development of individuals and the EMC floral family as a whole.

Working and starting the EMC Foundation course in China has been exciting yet challenging; but is also an incredibly rewarding experience.  This work has involved Sherene in adapting a variety of factors, including the cultural nuances, and the unfamiliar educational landscape.  She had to give maximum effort, research and understanding of the local culture to tailor the course content appropriately, including the educational practices, curriculum requirements and language, especially terminology, preferences.  This included translating the entire Foundation workbook into Chinese, whilst maintaining the English wording alongside – a huge enterprise.  Cultural exchanges between Belgium and China through floristry is a beautiful way to bridge the gap between the two diverse cultures.  Collaborative projects can be designed using flowers and producing an outcome that reflects the cultural values and aesthetics of both countries and even continents.  It is expected that the first Practicum group will start in November 2023.

Sherene feels that the students are all excited to know that they will be travelling to Bruges in the future to complete their Advanced and to graduate there. She says that, as she was on her EMC journey, she started to reflect on her personal preferences, such as colours, textures, and design elements, as well as values and aesthetics.  She grew up in a very multicultural society, and this has encouraged her to experiment with blending elements from this cross-cultural background, which results in unique and distinctive floral designs.  She respects every culture’s philosophical or spiritual beliefs that shape their relationship with nature and the environment.  Her own deep connection with nature controls her approach to sustainability, balance, and harmony within her designs.

She has been studying the Ikebana School of Ikenobo for almost twenty years.  She enjoys the simplicity and minimalism of Asian floral designs, where the placement of each stem is of great importance and significance, as is the use of negative space.  Balance and proportion are essential aspects of Asian aesthetics, as each element is carefully chosen and placed, striving for a sense of complete harmony.  The beauty of Asian floral design lies in its ability to capture the essence of culture, nature, and artistic expression.  It also allows artists to express their creativity and emotions through the arrangement of flowers and natural materials, and this is very similar to the ethos of EMC in which they coach their students. Learning both Asian and European styles of floristry has inspired Sherene to blend the aesthetics of both worlds, inadvertently forming her unique signature style. She sees herself as a storyteller when she is creating a design.

Sherene is very careful to follow what is happening in a wide range of industries besides the floral world. She studies the work and trends in architecture, fashion, textiles, dance choreography, interior décor, and all other forms of creative design, in order to recognise what is happening in the present and likely to happen in the future. As she has already mentioned, Sherene’s deep respect for, and connection with nature, impacts completely on her approach to sustainability within her designs.  She has consciously been considering sustainability when she designs long before the Sustainability Movement became such a ‘hot potato’.

Sherene demonstrates her own ethos that she hopes that she will pass onto others, in her own quiet, humble, thoughtful, and generous way.  In her own words:

“Approach flower design with passion and patience. The process of arranging flowers can be meditative and fulfilling. Be flexible and adaptable in the journey of creativity. The world of design is ever evolving.  It is important to stay informed and updated by getting education, experimenting, practising, and engaging with the design community.”

by Sara Marie Andrews, EMC

photos by Alex Mateiu

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