In this debut memoir, a young American college graduate moves to Singapore and lands a plush job with Toyota.
As this memoir opens, Hilary Corna is a peripatetic in the making. At 21, with two bachelor’s degrees—in international business and Asian studies—she sells her only asset, a 1995 Jeep Wrangler, walks away from her longtime boyfriend and gives herself two months to make it in Singapore. Her drinking buddy’s father lives there, and he invites her to stay with him while she navigates the foreign terrain and job market. A serendipitous poolside encounter with a Toyota executive named Sato alters the course of her life. Impressed with her knowledge of Japanese (she spent a summer in Japan) and her gumption to succeed, he offers her an interview at Toyota Motor Asia Pacific. Corna’s ecstatic when she’s hired as an executive officer, a job that centers on the Japanese concept of kaizen, or “change for the better.” Her goal: to improve the quality and efficiency of area Toyota dealerships. At Toyota, she’s often the only female, the only American and the only person under 30. Over the next three years, Corna grows and matures as she adapts to a bevy of cultural shocks; she learns to tame her American outspokenness, eat exotic dishes such as shark’s fin soup, embrace the concept of modesty and adapt to Singapore’s oppressive heat. The author offers a vicarious ride through her years of wanderlust as she writes of her extensive business travel to India and the Philippines. Her story reads like a travelogue at times, as she offers informative tidbits about each country (India, for example, has more than 50 dialects). Her schedule doesn’t allow for a social life, although she manages a couple of trips home to Ohio. She enjoys brief romances abroad but misses her ex-boyfriend, her family and American companionship in general. The author provides engaging moments of light humor throughout, usually about her own social snafus. Loss is a constant theme, as her co-workers move on and her cherished mentor, “Sato-san,” moves to Italy. Her overall message is that sacrifice is painful but ultimately propitious: “People moving in and out of your life numbs you from emotional attachment.” In the end, however, her homesickness prevails, and she leaves Asia, wiser and worldlier.
A fun, inspirational work about a gutsy expatriate’s life overseas.