For our first profile on Bright Side, we sat down with Pilu Sanchez, a Madrid-born strategist and expert in design strategy who took the plunge and moved to Chicago in early 2012.
Pilu illuminated the reasons that prompted her to set out for new shores, citing an amalgamation of love, a spirit of adventure, and perhaps above all else, a constant desire for change.
“Before I moved to Chicago, I was working as a head of strategy in a media company in Madrid. So I had a very comfortable life. Everything for once was settled down. But of course,” Pilu chuckled, “apparently I don’t like things when they’re settled down.”
In 2010, Pilu and her boyfriend Edu, with whom she is now happily married, had settled on the idea of living abroad. The exact destination was not of tremendous importance, rather the two were simply seeking the excitement that came with a life in a foreign country.
“I think there’s something special about not living in your country,” Pilu says, “I don’t know what it is, but I like it.”
In the end, opportunity knocked first for Edu, and it knocked in Chicago. After about a year of interviews and paperwork, Edu finally came to the United States in January of 2011. Pilu, who had some reservations about Chicago, initially decided to come over on a student visa by signing up for English classes. The two spent the remainder of the year together in Chicago, and in December they were married. By January 2012, Pilu had officially moved to Chicago as well.
Matilda, Pilu and Edu in Chicago - Summer 2015 Photo Credit Ben Derico
Pilu revealed that, though she was confident in her decision, there was a sharp change in her life once she was no longer a student.
“I had something to do, I took classes every day. Once that was over, it was like I had to push myself to start seeking a job. It shouldn’t be that difficult to find a sponsor, I thought. Edu did it, so why not me? I was totally wrong.”
For Pilu, this was a new experience. She had become financially independent from a young age and was a respected business professional with 13 years of experience in Spain. Pilu was only seeking out positions with Hispanic organizations, still lacking confidence in her English abilities, and applying for mid-level positions even though she had formerly worked as a head of strategy in Madrid. Though she was highly qualified, companies were reluctant to pay sponsorship fees for the H1-B visa, or to work around the strict application deadlines.
With her challenges compounding, Pilu felt lost and low, but fortunately relief came in the form of an old friend.
“One of my best friends from Madrid came to visit me, he was the head of a service design consultancy. When he saw me feeling lost, he said ‘No, no, we have to do something.’ So he invited me to Madrid to learn about more about service design, and I went.”
The time back in Madrid proved to be a valuable opportunity for Pilu to rethink her situation. When Pilu returned to Chicago, she had a new perspective. Though this was a trying time for her, she realized that it was giving her the insight and time to reflect more on herself than she had ever done before. She began seeking out new opportunities and projects, and eventually began to move away from her old field of advertising. Her desire for change was reinvigorated, but this time her attention was turned within.
The Feast Chicago - Fall 2014 Photo Credit Kevin Oh
Today, Pilu is an optimist strategist specializing in human-centered design, working with a wide array of creative and social entrepreneurs in the Chicago area and coaching at Experience Institute, where students can design their education through projects and apprenticeships around the world. One of her biggest projects is The Feast, a curated dinner that gathers active and altruistic individuals in order to exchanges ideas and develop innovative projects. The Feast began in New York, but Pilu gets the credit for taking the idea and bringing it to Chicago. These days, it seems she has truly made the city her home.
“It’s a beautiful city, I recognize I am lucky to live here,” she says, “Sometimes I miss Madrid, especially all the energy of it. But coming here gave me the freedom to start chasing new projects without the pressures I might have received if had I stayed in Spain.”
In spite of the challenges she faced when coming to Chicago, Pilu has managed to thrive in her new home, saying that the sense of community and respect for diversity in American culture is a unique beauty of the country that she values most. Chicago, she says, is a city filled with wonders, but you need to dive and dig to find them..
We asked her if she had any final parting words of wisdom for those immigrants who might find themselves in similar situations, feeling perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the challenges that come with moving to a new country.
Matilda & Pilu - Summer 2016
“Give yourself time to adapt,” Pilu says, “everyone has their own experience. Face everything with curiosity, it’s the only way to create your own experience. Do things. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to do, but if you go out and try to find things to do you will make connections. Say yes to everything. You have nothing to lose, and you never know how it’s going to end.”