The world is her oyster

Thao Hong

Thao Hong has made a grand life and living in service of global economic development

Barely a decade out of school, Thao Hong (BA 2001) has made enviable progress on a world-class bucket list.

Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Check. Study pastry in Paris. Check. Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Check. Learn to Tango in Buenos Aires. Check.

Call it a perk of her itinerant years in the US Foreign Service—the job, itself, a significant item on Hong’s life to-do list.

“I always wanted to work in diplomacy,” she says. “Not only to engage in political discussions, but also to build the cultural and economic ties that support peace around the world—and preempt situations like the one my parents found themselves in.”

That was the War in Vietnam, from which they were displaced for years before finding their way to the US. Without money, connections or a word of English, they made careers in social work and built a decent life for their two daughters in Federal Way.

In Thao, they inspired a profound sense of mission.

Shooting at the moon

Hong came to believe that diplomacy and international trade represented the most direct path to prosperity and peace. If an international posting with the State Department was her “shoot-at-the-moon” goal, she bet that studies in finance and international business at the Foster School would be a suitable preparation.

They were. After getting her start working at Nordstrom and Expeditors International, she landed a job in the Foreign Service and entered its economic track.

Hong trained in Washington, DC, and then served in Taipei, Taiwan, and Shanghai, China. Her first role was in consular work, but she quickly advanced to representing US interests in trade negotiations with government officials and business leaders in the areas of currency, banking, transportation and textiles.

Experiential learning

Hong—who speaks fluent English, Vietnamese, and Mandarin, and basic French and Japanese—relished the immersive experiences. “That exposure has made me appreciate how important it is to understand the context of foreign cultures,” she says. “The world is not so US-centric any longer. And trade is a vibrant force that pulses with or without us. I still believe it’s what facilitates peace around the world.”

The job also has been her ticket to see that world. “In the Foreign Service you end up with a network of friends who have sweet places to live across the globe,” she says. “If you can get there, you can enjoy them like a local, almost.”

After Shanghai, Hong completed the Advanced Economic Studies Program at the Foreign Service Institute, capped by an externship with the Boeing Company. When Boeing offered to retain her, she decided it was time to come home.

A new mission

Hong found an excellent fit in Boeing, America’s largest exporter whose fastest growing markets are international. “We live in an increasingly interconnected world,” she says. “And it’s wonderful to be a part of this great company that helped facilitate international travel, trade and diplomacy. We’re philosophically aligned.”

Hong began as director of international strategy, leading a team of functional experts to chart the enterprise global strategy of Boeing Commercial Airlines, Boeing Defense Space & Security, and Engineering Operations and Technology.

Now she is being groomed to lead the next generation of Boeing sales, and learning the aerospace industry from the wheels on up.

“Boeing is a genuine American icon,” Hong says. “I see why people are so proud and get so emotional about the company and its products. It’s contagious.”

Travel tips

Though her scope is global, Hong is tied to the Foster School, mentoring students as they work toward a Certificate of International Studies in Business and dream of their own role in the global economy.

Her advice?

Make home out of wherever you are. Check your ego and learn from the people you meet. Learn the local language. And have a curious mind. “That’s how you find yourself on Kilimanjaro or the Inca Trail or cooking in Paris,” Hong says. “I was curious and wanted to try it out.”