Cordelia Zhao was not a planned child, but was brought to the world and raised as if she had been. Born to wealthy parents, she was undoubtedly better off than many other unplanned children. It was her parents' wealth that allowed her to grow up comfortably in New York City, attending the best schools for anyone her age. She was the embodiment of their hopes and dreams, and from a young age was molded to be a fierce, strong, independent woman. They wanted her to achieve everything she wanted and more, and she was more than happy to live up to their expectations. They had a lot riding on her education, though not necessarily as much as with her older brother, Leighton, and her younger sister, Theodora. It didn't have much to do with being the middle child, but rather with the fact she, unlike Leighton and Theodora, hadn't inherited their ability to perform magic, setting her at a disadvantage in their eyes. Nevertheless, Cordelia persevered, always achieving perfect marks in spite of attending some of the most challenging schools the state of New York had to offer.
Beyond that, Cordelia further developed who she was by doing every extracurricular she could. It often meant she had to go nights without sleeping, but it never visibly affected her. She ran the school newspaper, did swimming, was head of the prom committee, participated in the debates club, and was known to found a plethora of organizations during her time in high school. She was the ideal student, and everyone aspired to do what she could. She was ranked the most likely to be successful in her senior year, and on college decision day, proved everyone right when she accepted her admission to the University of Cambridge, where she would begin her preparations to become a professor. It hadn't ever really kicked in what she wanted to do beyond finish school with perfect marks, but by the time college decision day rolled around, she had realized, looking at all the people that had inspired her and pushed her to get to that point, she wanted to do the same for others.
During her time attending the University of Cambridge, a number of things happened to Cordelia. Her older brother joined the aurors and her younger sister decided the wizard life wasn't for her, so she made the decision to reintegrate to muggle society and become a veterinarian. Her parents had been in the middle of their trip around the globe when they had found out her mother had been diagnosed with cancer, but it wasn't long before she had succumbed to her illness. Her brother came out as gay, much to the utter disappointment (but eventual acceptance) of their father. Those next few years, while she finished her studies, were clearly a wild ride, but despite this, Cordelia made the most of it. She kept going even if she wanted to give up, but anyone with two eyes could see she was struggling to cope. It was then she turned to alcohol. One drink every few days turned into one a day, two a day, three a day, until she had to be sent to rehab several weeks after graduation. It was a wild ride, but she came out on the other side.
Learning how to cope with significant changes in her life was difficult at first, but as she looked into what was ahead of her, she knew she had to do this. There just wasn't anything else to do. Before she knew it, she had completed her practice, and was teaching. She knew this wasn't going to cut it for her, though. History excited her, obviously, as well as psychology - those were the subjects she was most prepared to teach. But it didn't really click until a conversation over the phone with her brother. He was excitedly talking about what had happened in his last mission when she realized: she wanted to be involved with the wizarding world. For so long, she'd longed for something interesting that revolutionized her world. She just hadn't realized what she needed. But as soon as she did? She put an application in for Hogwarts. It had been done mostly through her siblings, and Hogwarts initially turned her away, but it seemed a vacancy in their faculty had opened right before classes began. They flew her out, and only when she arrived did everything truly seem to get in place for her.