One White Face: How a Remarkable Leap of Faith Launched a Daring Journey in Self-Discovery

One White Face: How a Remarkable Leap of Faith Launched a Daring Journey in Self-Discovery

by Hilary Corna


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626343405
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 01/24/2017
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

When Hilary Corna was twenty-two years old, she bought a one-way ticket to Singapore to pursue a pipe dream of launching a career in Asia. Successfully landing a job with Toyota in Singapore as Senior Executive Officer, she served the company for three years conducting Kaizen throughout dealerships in numerous Asian countries. One White Face is an account of her time abroad, which is now being adapted into a screenplay. It has been called the “GenY version of Eat, Pray, Love” and is used in numerous colleges.

Hilary is the Founder of the #DareYourself Campaign and Burial Blessings, Co-Founder of Okaeri Nippon, and a TEDx speaker. Her organization is partnered with the Holstee Manifesto, and Hilary also is a spokesperson for Toyota USA and “I’mFirst!”  A nationally recognized speaker, Hilary has been featured on NBC, The New York Times and ForbesWoman, as well as in Pearson’s Business Communication textbook. Over the last five years, she has spoken to over 30,000 students at more than 100 colleges, universities, and high schools across the nation.

Read an Excerpt

One White Face

How a Remarkable Leap of Faith Launched a Daring Journey in Self-Discovery

By Hilary Corna

Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2011 Hilary Corna
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62634-340-5


May Be Crazy

One thing I've always loved to do is imagine myself, where I am at that moment, on a world map. On the day I interviewed at Toyota Motor Asia Pacific, I pictured my home state of Ohio in the United States all the way to the west, and to the far east, me sitting there on a leather couch in the Lexus room of the Centennial Tower, in the city-state of Singapore, looking out on a stunning view of Marina Bay, and listening — or should I say, not listening — to my prospective boss's question.

"Tell me more of your thoughts on this," Kimura-san said.

I looked up, trying not to panic, begging my mind to replay any portion of the past two minutes. In Japanese manner, the three businessmen sat expressionless, waiting for me to reply.

When I graduated from college, sold my '95 Jeep Wrangler, and moved to Singapore in hopes of pursuing a pipe dream, I had no idea what I would gain and lose. As it turns out, I gained a serendipitous highly esteemed position with the world's largest car manufacturer, a room at the Shangri-La Resort, and dozens of stamps in my passport. Along the way, I lost the girl I used to be. I lost friendships, the support system of my Italian family, any chance at ever feeling normal again, and a boy named John.

My Italian heritage came from my dad's side. All my relatives were very close and spent every major holiday together, which made for a room full of lasagna, red wine, babies, gossip, and a whole lot of love. When my twin brother and I were eight months old, our father passed away in a car accident, leaving my mother to raise five children alone. She struggled to make ends meet, but instead of complaining, she persevered and took good care of the children she loved. Mom was the hardest working person I knew, and she taught me to work hard too. As a kid, I picked out my own outfits from a pile of laundry four feet high. I packed my own lunch for school and arranged my own rides to sports practices. At times, I resented this responsibility. I wanted the things the other kids at school had, and I wanted them to come easily. But my self-reliance also meant I began setting goals at a young age, and achieving them.

One goal I always had was to travel. My mother had spent several years of her childhood in Japan, where her father served as a sergeant in the US Army, and my curiosity about this far-off place grew as I flipped the pages of her black-and-white photo album. During their time in Japan, my grandmother had learned many of her domestic skills from Japanese women: housekeeping, sewing, quilting, and gardening. Grammy always kept her home immaculately clean and required guests to remove their shoes at the entrance. Temple rubbings, ornate Japanese furniture, and silk screens decorated her home — there was even an oil painting from the Honda family, with whom she was very close.

So when I got the scholarship letter awarding me enough funds to study abroad in Japan during my junior year of college, the words were almost illegible from my shaking hands. I had been studying over two years and couldn't wait to fully immerse myself in Japanese culture.

While in Japan, I lived with a homestay family, indulged in home-cooked Japanese dinners prepared by my okaasan (host mom), and ate sushi with local businessmen who wanted to practice their English. These businessmen also gave me tours of their offices and even invited me into their homes to meet their families. Surrounded by faces and languages from around the world, I sang karaoke and guzzled whiskey in local bars. It was five of the best months of my life.

During this time, I also spent tireless hours studying Buddhism and foreign currency. My class visited shrines and temples as well as modern landmarks like the Kyoto Tower. My language teacher was the hardest I'd ever encountered, and together with my homestay family, helped skyrocket my Japanese language skills. I knew I'd never see the world the same way again.

Sure enough, when I returned home, I felt different around the other students at my university. My curiosity had blossomed; I had developed a taste for the unknown. Asia had reinvigorated my senses. I wanted to hear new things, taste new things, and touch new things. I wanted experiences outside of the ordinary, but these desires set me apart from my peers. They winced when I told them I preferred to eat a whole fish down to its spine because it had more flavor than a breast of fish. I couldn't stop thinking about Asia and what else it had to offer. For the first time, I wondered if I could work abroad. But there was someone else in my life whose feelings I had to consider.

I had been dating John long-distance throughout college. He was a few years older, living in Chicago, and was an accountant. By the end of my study abroad trip, we were counting down the days until we could see each other again, but then something happened — I got an opportunity to stay.

One of my business contacts offered me a summer internship in Tokyo. I was shocked and ecstatic, but knowing that it meant another three months in Japan, I became skittish at the thought of bringing it up to John. With only a week left to make the decision, I finally did it.

"John, I need to tell you something," I said one night over Skype. "I've been offered an internship."

"That's amazing!" John said. "When? Where?"

"It's this summer, here in Japan." A space of time passed. I started to think something had happened with the computer connection.

"You mean you would stay?" he asked.

"I don't know. I just wanted to throw it out there and see what you thought."

"I can't do it, Hilary. It's been long enough. I'm tired of not having my girlfriend around. I want a normal relationship."

I knew then that I wasn't ready to have that discussion, so I changed the subject quickly. After that, I was afraid to even mention the internship. It was difficult enough to get a job in Japan, much less as a young American woman, but I knew what John would say. And the idea of losing John frightened me. He was my first real boyfriend, my first love. I cared deeply for him and couldn't imagine not being with him. So I passed up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

John and I continued talking about the summer ahead of us and how wonderful it would be to finally be back together. I already had an internship lined up in Chicago so I could spend a few months with him before returning to North Carolina for my senior year of college.

But things weren't the same. I kept thinking about what I had given up for John and wondering if I'd made the right decision. By the end of the summer, I couldn't fight my instinct any longer. I was too young to forgo an amazing life experience for a man. I loved John, but I was barely twenty-one. I wondered what other opportunities I'd miss because I had chosen to be with him. These thoughts had haunted me all summer and I felt discontent. I knew what I needed to do.

The day I broke up with John, a fall wind blew through the leaves of the acorn trees on campus. My final year at school had just begun, and it was John's first weekend trip down from Chicago to visit me. We sat on the edge of my bed, talking about our plans for the weekend. I gathered my strength to get up and shut the door, then sat down next to him again.

"John, I need to be honest with you," I said.

He looked confused.

"I don't think we should be together anymore."

My heart felt like someone was squeezing it in a fist. John's eyebrows creased over the big blue eyes that I loved. He sunk into the bed, and I watched him try not to cry.

"I know it's been hard since you've come home from Japan, but we can work through it," he said. "We've made it this far." His voice softened and he reached for my hands.

"There's nothing wrong with us, John. This is a personal decision. I need to do this for myself right now," I said, ignoring the feeling of his balmy hands in mine.

Nothing I could say could ease what felt like an overwhelming unfairness to him. John had taught me more about myself than anyone else. He was honest with me, challenged me. He was my best friend. Having him in my life made me a better person. I had nothing but high regard for him, and the hardest part of breaking up was knowing that there wasn't anything wrong with our relationship, other than the timing. We were in love, but at that point, I just wasn't willing to give everything else up for it.

As graduation approached, everyone asked about my future plans. The job market was great at that time, and my grades were impressive. The offers were streaming in, but I didn't feel my blood boiling in anticipation for any of them. Friends and family kept advising me, "Accept any job out of college, no matter what. You can't be picky," but that thought process always stupefied me. On the cusp of graduation — that is when a young adult should be picky. You're uncommitted, unencumbered, and have little to lose. It's one of the best times to pursue your passions.

I knew my passion: to return to Asia. As the school year came to a close, I proposed the idea to my professors, mentors, and friends.

"You want to do what?" they'd ask.

"I may be crazy," I said.

Most people, including my family, were unsure of what to do other than offer encouragement. They smiled and wished me luck. To this day, I can remember the five individuals who actually supported my wishful thinking. I moved forward with the decision anyway — a decision ruled by instinct and my heart. I graduated jobless with two bachelor's degrees, and an excitement that was immeasurable.

Over a few weeks' time, I had several leads and contacts in Asia, but all of them said the same thing: "You have a great resume, and we'd love to have you, but it just doesn't make sense to hire you from the US if we've never met you in person." Skype call after Skype call, email after email, my head hung low after another long day of rejections and cynicism.

One evening, I found myself sitting on a crooked stool at the local campus bar, battling disappointment and wondering whether or not I had set the bar too high for myself this time. Then everything started to make sense. I saw an old friend, Brian. Drinking one-dollar beers in plastic mugs, I told him my plight, and he proposed a plan. Suddenly, my pipe dream of working in Asia actually seemed like a viable post-graduation option.

"My dad lives in Singapore," he began. "I'm probably going out there after graduation. You're more than welcome to stay with us until you can find a job and get up on your own two feet."

Brian was a drinking buddy. By that, I mean that I really only saw him when we happened to be at the bar on the same night. Our conversations rarely reached higher than a recount of the recent drama among mutual friends. Needless to say, this offer immediately deepened our acquaintance.

"Typical American," I thought as I realized that I couldn't even locate Singapore on my mental world map. I began asking Brian questions to hide my ignorance. He described the hot, humid weather of Singapore, the air-conditioned shopping malls, and the nightlife that kept people out until the sun rose. I was not hard to convince; what started out as chitchat between friends in a bar quickly turned into a catalyst that would enable my return to Asia.

Immediately, I contacted everyone I'd been in touch with to let them know I was coming. Like a viral social media community, connections started springing up. I liquefied my only asset into cash — my pride and joy, a '95 Sahara Jeep Wrangler.

When the time came to purchase my flight, I was staying at my mom's house. She had turned my middle school bedroom into her office. Behind the computer screen, a window overlooked my childhood backyard. A maple tree had grown taller and broader, shading Mom's garden. I took a breath and remembered how easy life had been, playing in the yard with friends, helping Mom plant tomatoes.

Upstairs, I began searching for flights online. Mom was downstairs, clinking dishes and silverware as she set the table for dinner. I was all alone. My hand shook as I touched the mouse and watched the arrow hover over the "BOOK FLIGHT" button beneath the itinerary. I was still shaking moments later when my mother came up the stairs calling my name.

"Dinner's ready," she said.

"I'm in here," I said in a hushed voice.

Mom stood in the doorway. I was still sitting at the computer, looking outside. Summer had just begun. The sun was shining.

"Are you hungry?" she asked.

"I just booked my flight."

"You what?"

"I told you I was going."

"I kind of thought you would back out," she said, her voice louder, more urgent. "Hilary, you don't even have a job. What happens if you get there and it doesn't work out?"

"I don't know. I'll figure it out." My endeavors in the past had been ambitious, but this was by far the most ruthless. I was just as frightened as she was, but I couldn't show it. "I have to go, Mom."

"I can't believe you are doing this. You've been gone for four years already! I was finally excited about having my daughter back in my life!"

I pushed the chair back and stood up, taking a step or two closer to her. "That's ridiculous. I've always been in your life!"

"Seeing you for a few weeks throughout the year is being in my life? You've spent nearly every summer with John. It's like you just stop in to say hello."

"Mom, you can't say that."

"I can too. I am your mother. This is unbelievable, Hilary ... You've really done it this time."

"It'll all work out."

"I can't talk to you until you have a job." She disappeared from the doorway and walked with loaded footsteps down to the kitchen.

Leaning my hands on the desk, I peered back at the maple tree. Mom had taught me the most important things in life — strength, resiliency, determination. But for the first time, Mom didn't support what I was doing. It felt like a bad omen. Had I made the wrong decision?

My flight was scheduled to arrive in Singapore on July 5. As a new graduate, I had an allowance of cash from graduation gifts, the money from my Jeep, and $7,000 in school debt. I made a budget, gave myself two months in Singapore, and promised my mother that if either the money or the time ran out before I had a job, I would come home. I didn't know if I would succeed or fail. I didn't know if my plan was actually feasible or just plain crazy. But my heart dominated over all logic. All I could be certain of was this: I had to try.


You Are Brave

As the floor-to-ceiling glass doors opened at the arrival platform of the airport, a gush of sultry air seared my sinuses. Black darkness hovered over the palm trees allowing only glimpses of their human-sized leaves. I remember thinking how quiet it was.

After three flights and thirty-six hours, I had landed in Singapore. It was 11:00 p.m., which meant it was 11:00 a.m. back home. Brian had arranged for a driver to pick me up, and I had wondered the whole flight how he would identify me. It all made sense when I saw the driver standing with my name printed on a piece of paper: HILARY CORNA.

"That's me!" I said, as giddy as ever to find him.

"Nice to meet you, Hilary."

"Nice to meet you too!"

As the driver drove into the city, I rolled down the window and watched the endless palms lining the highway. The air softly brushed my strained eyes. Although I couldn't see the ocean, I could hear its waves. I'd made it safely.

When I opened the doors to my temporary home, I didn't expect to find one of the most lavish condos in Singapore — River Place — which overlooked the Singapore River that ran through the middle of the city. Brian had just returned from a vacation in Thailand.

"Welcome!" he greeted me.

"Wow, this is stunning." I said, trying to acknowledge my friend while staring in awe around the penthouse. The interior design of the three-bedroom penthouse was simplistic in style with dark mahogany wood furniture. Oil paintings covered the tan walls with primary-colored illustrations of Vietnamese farmers tending rice paddies.

"Yeah, it is pretty sweet," he nodded. "Here's your room. I recommend we get up at a normal time tomorrow so you can adjust to the time zone. You don't want to sleep during the day."

"Sure! I can't wait to see what this city is all about." It had taken me two weeks to adjust when I first went to Japan. Someone told me that it takes a day of recovery for every time zone passed. Yet even though I knew I needed rest, I stayed up with Brian for a little while, chatting about life since college.

"Life is amazing here."

"I just hope I can find something to allow me to stay."

"Well, you've got ninety days." The tourist visa gives Americans this length of time before they need to leave or renew the visa.

"If it takes me that long," I said, "I'll take it as a sure-fire sign that this whole thing just wasn't a good idea. I only budgeted two months, anyway."

"You'll make it happen. I have no doubt about that."

Not long after that, we wished each other good night. I was wide awake since it was midday back home, but Brian had already switched his internal clock to "Asia time." Lying in bed, I stared up at the air conditioning unit on the wall — decentralized cooling, just like Japan. I smiled with the confirmation that I had, in fact, returned to Asia like I promised I would. Now I just needed to find a way to stay.


Excerpted from One White Face by Hilary Corna. Copyright © 2011 Hilary Corna. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword xiii

Preface xv

Part I

1 May Be Crazy 3

2 You Are Brave 9

3 It's Just a Little Rain 18

4 Indefinitely 25

5 One White Face 31

6 You Are Funny, Corna-san 37

7 No Warm Water 43

8 You Must Eat the Eyeball 47

9 Ma'am Corna 53

10 "Y.M.C.A." 58

11 Young, You Young 65

12 Keep Communicate 74

13 Safety First 80

14 Enough About Singapore 85

Part II

15 There Is No Secret 97

16 Of Course, Darling 107

17 You Are America 114

18 Sorry, Mom 120

19 A Student Again 125

20 Carmen Sandiego 132

21 He Was Asking About You 136

22 Yes, No, Ice Cream 143

23 Health Is the Only Thing You Have 148

24 I Need Courage to Leave 154

25 Sunday Night at Nandi 157

26 Khawy Seu Hilary 164

27 He Told Me in Privacy 172

28 God Bless Singapore 182

Part III

29 First Vacation in Fifteen Years 193

30 Be Safe and Vibrant 203

31 Challenge Your Team 212

32 Anthony Is Waiting 220

33 Shoganai 224

34 Call Me "Antonio" 232

35 Genbarimasu 240

36 How Is Asian-Land? 247

37 Smitten 249

38 -TA not -DA 256

39 Opportunities in Disguise 263

40 Be Home 268

41 Hugh Hefner & Highlighters 271

42 Five Vodkas and a Cigarette 277

43 Beautiful 280

44 She Has a Dream 284

45 I Needed Twenty Years 291

46 Toyota Dress 296

47 Fist-Sized Eyes 302

48 Please Share Singapore 308

Author Q&A 321

Book Discussion Guide 326

Afterword 328

Acknowledgments 330

A Note About the Author 333

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