Lily Fung Kodua ('13)

Lily Fung Kodua ('13)

1. Please tell us a little about yourself (e.g. where are you from, which year you graduated from Wellesley, whether or not you majored/minored in any other subjects)! 

I was born and raised in New York City, but my parents were originally from Enping, a city in Guangdong. I had originally wavered between majoring in architecture, psychology, or linguistics, but I chose to go forward with Economics because Professor Weerapana explained to the class that it all just boiled down to the Coincidence of Wants – that he would Trade Economics for Chocolate. (I love dark chocolate myself, so I thought gaining knowledge in Economics might result in me gaining more Chocolates in the future!)

I spent a summer semester in Shanghai and a fall semester in Beijing through the study abroad program partnership with Columbia University, because I wanted to be in the midst of it all, to witness the double-digit economic growth that China was experiencing, that we spoke so much about in our economics courses. 

Aside from double-majoring in Economics and Chinese Language and Literature, two courses which I found to be most memorable were Intro to Neuroscience, which I took in my first year, and Sports Medicine, which I took in my senior year. Because – Why Not? I’m At Wellesley.

2. Why did you decide to become a Chinese Studies major? How did it shape your experience at Wellesley? 

Growing up, I spoke some Cantonese at home with my family, and took less than a year of Saturday School Chinese growing up, so I came in with a very limited vocal vocabulary. This posed a challenge to me that I knew I had to confront at some point in my life. Why Not at Wellesley.

I didn’t quite know which Beginning Chinese class I was supposed to start out with. I remember trying to take the placement test during Orientation Week to see if I might fit into Advanced Beginning Chinese. I struggled so hard during the oral examination, I wanted to cry – because I could understand everything that the Professor had asked me, and I could probably respond in Cantonese, but I could not utter a single word in Mandarin. 

She placed me into Beginning Chinese 101 and 102, but then I moved into Advanced Intermediate Chinese 203 and 204 in my second year. Looking back, I’m glad she did that for me – I moved through the major with a wider network of friends taking Chinese courses along with me.  

After my first year, I also indulged myself and took two semesters of Japanese. Having some background in Chinese truly helped me out and made visiting the East Asian Studies corridor a lot more fun. 

I declared my major in Chinese Language and Literature after I returned from studying abroad, because it did not make sense not to do it. When I came back to campus, I was only a few courses away from fulfilling the major requirements. The next course I told myself I absolutely had to take before graduating, was Chinese & Languages of China with Shiao Wei Tham. It helped me better understand that the lifelong frustration I felt, that resulted in my tears at Orientation week, was actually a much broader topic of study.

3. What are you doing now?

I am up writing this profile at 2:44 AM on a Friday after having celebrated my 30th Birthday. 

Oh, you meant career-wise? 

I currently work as a Supervising Financial Analyst at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. We are a bi-state government authority that manages and operates critical transportation infrastructure for connecting and developing the New York/New Jersey Region. Specifically within my portfolio, I oversee the budget development and financial performance for the 5 major airports serving the region, the seaports that facilitate imports and exports by vessel, the World Trade Center campus and 9/11 Memorial, and all the security required to keep it safe. This year, we celebrate our 100th Anniversary in 2021.

4. How has your Wellesley experience and your major influenced your life/career after college? 

It took me over seven years to come up with an acceptable answer to this question. Wellesley College gave me many things.

First, it gave me a set of diverse best friends who I lean on and connect with all day every day regardless where we are in the world. I ask them literally everything; they are my sounding board and my solid anchor back to reality and our core shared principles. 

Second, it gave me a model of what a world looks like when all people in positions of power are supporting women. I borrow from it often, to foster the same culture in the communities I participate in. It makes everything better.

Third, it defined for me my life mission in four easy words. I know you know which ones they are.

Fourth, it provided a direct connection to the women I most admired growing up. I know you know who they are as well. 

Fifth, it provided a safe environment for experimentation. I leveraged this to take random classes that sounded cool even if they weren’t directly related to my major. I took on a few extracurriculars that I never thought I had any particular talent in. I also had to withdraw from a 5th class in my course schedule nearly a few weeks before finals – I thought I could handle it! (I could not.)

Sixth, it provided me with a model for what good teaching and good mentorship looks, sounds, and feels like. My professors were patient with me. They were also honest with me. They scheduled office hours with me, to show that’s how you demonstrate you’re making time for an important conversation. They set the foundation now for how I manage my business relationships today. 

Seventh, continuing along the same point from above, it provided me with Professors who defined my career.

In my final semester, I started looking towards what I might do after I graduate. (Essentially, find a job, so that I could start paying back student debt!) My Economics professors helped me set the stage for my first steps:

  1. Professor Weerapana identified for me a key weakness in my job search strategy; he point blank told me I was too humble, that this was actually a wonderful quality in a person, but unfortunately it was also what was setting me back. He taught me, you have to show your prospective employer what you can offer them. I eventually figured it out, after much trial and error, and successfully entered the workforce about two weeks after I graduated.  

  2. Professor Fetter accepted my request to list him as a contact for reference. I was elated because I knew I was doing disappointingly terribly in his class, despite trying my absolute hardest every night to figure out Advanced Econometrics. (These struggles later came in handy again when I went into my graduate program at NYU CUSP in Applied Urban Science and Informatics.)

  3. Professor Hilt gave me honest feedback and told me to not go and become a teacher in New York City straight out of college. He knew for me, this was not the right fit, and reassured me, if I still wanted to, there would always be an opportunity to teach later in life. My career would look so different if I had not listened to him. 

My Chinese Language and Literature major came in handy for me once I actually started working, but it was in more subtle ways. 

  1. My boss entrusted me with the responsibility of receiving and greeting a committee of economic scholars from China who came to visit the City of New York. They wanted to better understand how the City generated revenues. They shared with me deep insights that I continue to recall upon to this day. 

  2. Speaking the language helps me connect more deeply with my colleagues at work whose first language is Chinese, and then English. Although they are equally fluent in English, we share better conversations in Chinese. 

  3. It connects me back to the friends I sat next to and across from in Chinese class at Wellesley College, even if they didn’t end up majoring in Chinese. I now see them growing and progressing into roles with power to make impact and to change the world; they inspire me and force me to continue setting high expectations for myself as well.