One White Face
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One White Face

Columbus, Ohio, United States

Columbus, Ohio, United States
Band Comedy World


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The best kept secret in music


"Proactive. No Residue."

I was running out of money and everyone was telling me that my pipe dream of launching a career in Asia was failing.

I should come home. I’d been crazy to buy a one-way ticket to Singapore. But when I got the job offer from Toyota’s Asian regional office in Singapore, my mom wrote in capital letters in an email to my entire family, “PROACTIVE. NO RESIDUE.”

The Background

As a new graduate fresh out of college in 2007, my resume was ideal and the job offers were streaming, but nothing made my blood boil. I have a fascination with Asia that was born out of seeing my mom’s photos of her time living there as a child, and after studying the language for a few years in college, I had a life-changing study abroad experience in Japan.

Following this, a business contact offered me an internship in Tokyo at the age of 21 but I turned it down for a relationship and I was never able to let it go. How could I be sacrificing so much at such a young age? I left the boyfriend and suddenly had a crazy idea: What if I could launch my career in Asia?

Professors, advisors, friends, and family were all against the idea. And except for a handful of people, I was the only one that thought it was a good move, but I did it anyway.

I bought a one-way ticket to Singapore, gave myself a budget and two months and said that if I didn’t find a job before either one ran out, I’d come home.

I didn’t know what I would gain or lose, I just knew that I had to try.

Three weeks after arriving in Singapore I was almost out of the $2,000 I’d budgeted. Everyone told me it was time to come home. Then suddenly, everything changed. An afternoon swim led to a serendipitous encounter with a top Toyota executive, who after one interview improbably offered me a position. I was soon branded by one of the big bosses as their “one white face” – a notion that would underscore the theme of my life and work overseas. Since then I’ve discovered a few things…

You probably won’t reach the stars

…But you might surprise yourself and achieve your goal. A friend recently reminded me that Thomas Edison tried to make an electric light between 1,000 and 10,000 times. What if I had stopped trying in week two? If most people are discouraging your idea, I encourage you to take that as a sign to mean that it’s probably a good one. The majority of society follows good ideas, they don’t initiate them.

Big ideas = Big responsibilities

…But this just means it’s worth it. Responsibilities are opportunities to explore, experiment, and grow. They are opportunities to discover the capacity that’s hidden inside you. Every day abroad was a surprise. Every day challenged my thoughts and opinions. It wasn’t easy, but the value I gained from it was worth more than any dream salary.

Keep Moving

…And keep entertaining your curiosities. When I left for Singapore my godmother gave me a print of the Helen Keller quote, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” It sat on my Toyota desk as a daily reminder that we MUST dare ourselves to grow. We must move on to the next goal, the next dream, the next discovery. Therefore not just as individuals, but as humanity, our lives improve. Otherwise, I can’t imagine what we are here for. To remain stagnant would be awful.

It took me four years to ask my mom what she meant by her comment, “Proactive. No Residue.” She responded,

“No regrets. No looking back. If 4,000 times pass that you reach a fork and look back and wonder what if, you still have to trust yourself for doing the things in your life that you know you need to do. If there is no residue, you don’t regret a part of your life. It makes you who you are today.” -

"Expat Women: Books: Interviews with Authors One White Face"

Ohio-born Hilary Corna had always dreamt of living in Asia. So after graduating from college, and against everyone's advice, Hilary sold her prized Jeep and purchased a one-way ticket to Singapore, with no job to go to, and just one suitcase to start her new life.

What could have ended in failure turned into her greatest adventure yet, and her story has now been published as One White Face – a memoir of adapting to new cultures and customs, making friendships, and being the one white (female) face in Toyota Motor Asia-Pacific.

We recently caught up with Hilary (now on a one-year tour across US high school and college campuses to talk to students who will soon be in the same position she was in just four years ago) to find out more about One White Face.

Expat Women's Interview with Hilary

Expat Women: Hilary, what do you think is the biggest lesson you learnt during your time as an expat woman working for Toyota in Singapore, and why?

Hilary: I learnt how to be a lady. Let me explain... At first, the gender adversity shocked me and I took it offensively. Being asked to clean up after company birthday parties or to serve tea to my bosses made me say to myself, "It is 2007! How are they still treating women like this?"

Yet, this was Japanese culture. And it was through adapting to these cultural practices, that I learned for the first time in my life how to be a lady. In the States, women are taught to be "independent" and "equal" to men. When in fact, I believe this makes us lose what is natural to us – a strength, a femininity.

In Asia, I learned how to sit up straight, speak softly and control my laugh and Italian hand gestures when I speak. I learned to how to dress in a way that has character but does not expose too much. I learned to be a lady.

Expat Women: Your career in Singapore started with a chance encounter in an unexpected place. How important do you think networking is in securing a career abroad, and what other tips can you share with women looking for international job opportunities?

Hilary: Meeting the Toyota executive in the pool was certainly serendipitous and although being open and aware for unpredicted opportunities is important, you cannot plan for these. Women should be aware that finding a job abroad is time and emotionally sensitive – and somewhat different from searching for a job at home.

For example, my boss told me that originally, his colleagues did not want to hire me because they thought I had come to Singapore with a boyfriend and that I would leave if he left. Fortunately they did hire me, because they said that even if I was hiding a boyfriend, I had convinced them how much I really wanted to be at Toyota.

If I had any other tip, it would be to not expect the same treatment in the interviewing process as your home country. Toyota barely even looked at my resume. They did not seem to care what school I went to (and I believe this to be a good thing).

Expat Women: You struggled with respecting cultural differences in Asia, whilst also honoring your own instincts and beliefs. How did you find the balance?

Hilary: Do you know that feeling in your gut when you know something is just not right? If I felt that, I stood up for what I was taught. Yet, there is also that feeling when you know something is odd, or different, like you are in a movie and seeing it from the outside. That is when I just kept quiet and observed. If it did not hurt me physically, I could accept it, understand it and learn from it.

Expat Women: What brought you home to the United States?

Hilary: Essentially, I came home because I had gotten what I wanted out of the experience. From the personal side, I did not want to spend all of my twenties abroad. I realized already that I felt different from my peers and did not want that gap to widen. I also missed my family and found it difficult to make and maintain deep relationships with friends in such a transient lifestyle. Lastly, I wanted to meet someone special, and that was nearly impossible abroad.

From a work perspective, it also felt like the right time to leave because new Japanese management had entered the company and I did not agree with the direction that they thought our regional and department activity should take.

Expat Women: How has it felt to repatriate? Did you suffer from "reverse culture shock"?

Hilary: The shock of coming home was exponentially harder then leaving. I describe living abroad as reinvigorating your senses again. You learn to see, touch, taste, hear and smell all over. Coming home with a new perspective was awfully challenging, especially to my Midwest hometown of Columbus, Ohio. I have found it difficult to relate on the same level to people in my hometown now, because I do not like football or sports, I do not miss college, and I do not like having four seasons.

For a while, I avoided my repatriation dilemma by just keeping in touch with my good friends from abroad and family. But then I realized that I was only postponing a problem, not solving it. So I started to reach out and find like-minded people. For example, I tried to meet people that knew about Asia, that studied abroad and/or that thought about world issues. This turned out to be so important for my health and livelihood.

Expat Women: You have said that writing One White Face was the hardest thing you have ever done. What made you start – and what kept you going?

Hilary: On my last visit home before repatriating, I had a handful of people tell me that I needed to write a book. I laughed out loud. Writing a book never claimed a line in my list of personal goals. Actually, the process of writing was excruciating for my personality type. I do not like to be alone. I like to engage with people and process my thoughts verbally, not through the written word.

Yet, something pushed me. Not my own interests, but a calling from something bigger out there, to the point where I felt I had no choice but to write my story. Through cold and rainy days this past winter, this something kept pushing me. The more I wrote, the stronger it pushed. Once I brought on editing interns, I saw for the first time the power that the stories had and their potential. When I hired an editor, it became even more real. Once I signed a contract with her, there was no stopping One White Face from coming to life.

Expat Women: You are still in your twenties, and yet have achieved so many things. What is next for Hilary Corna?

Hilary: (Laughs) I never stop! I am always scheming the next big plan! There are numerous opportunities that have crossed my lap that I am now considering but keeping my options open. Including in those is working with women and diversity groups in companies, as well as helping schools merge their career and international initiatives. The book has also been recently passed around Hollywood to potentially be optioned. Apparently, I might even have the next "Eat, Pray, Love".

Furthermore, I would like to learn more about what anthropologists have defined as the "cultural cusp" – the creation of a new culture of people by merging two over a generation. I have been used as an example of it.

Perhaps I should just end with the Helen Keller quote I kept on my desk at Toyota for the entire three years...

"Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all." -

"One-Way Ticket: Why I Left Home to Launch a Career in Asia"

As a new graduate, fresh out of college in 2007, my resume looked great and the job offers were streaming in. But nothing really got my pulse racing. I’d always been fascinated with Asia—my mom had lived there as a child, I’d studied Japanese for a few years in college, and I had a life-changing study abroad experience in Osaka, Japan. Following that, a business contact had offered me an internship in Tokyo, but I’d turned it down (for a man!).

I never really let it go, though. How could I be sacrificing so much of what I wanted at such a young age? I finally left the boyfriend and had a crazy idea: What if I could launch my career in Asia? ... - ForbesWoman


Still working on that hot first release.



One White Face is Hilary’s first book. She is a Speaker and former Kaizen leader for Toyota in Singapore where a Toyota executive once claimed she “has the power to earn the trust of gemba (frontline staff).” Hilary is a 2003 Coca Cola Scholar, studied at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Japan, graduated from Elon University with a BS in International Business, a BA in Asian/Pacific Studies and a minor in Japanese. She has been featured ForbesWoman, in Pearson’s 2011 Business Communication textbook, worked in six Asian countries, and traveled to even more. Hilary speaks conversational Japanese and resides in Columbus, Ohio.