Radically Astrid: Self-Discovery on the Path of Migration

Clare Sausen September 17, 2021

VOICES & PERSPECTIVES:  For the second call of our voices + perspectives series, we sought perspectives on both Migration Patterns and life as an Emerging Professional. Jasmine Williams discussed displacement and the community’s role in city planning. Today, we sit down with Astrid Garcia to discuss her immigration journey and what she’s learned along the way as we kick off Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15, 2021). Stay tuned for more stories to come.

Astrid Garcia is a designer in CRTKL’s Seattle office by way of Mexico City. She is a graduate of both La Universidad de las Américas Puebla with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and the Healthier Materials and Sustainable Buildings Course at Parson’s School of Design. Being focused on every aspect of a project affords Astrid the ability to see each project as a whole and not as separate pieces. Her creative and technical skills, combined with her willingness to take initiative and remain flexible, are invaluable to the clients and teams that she collaborates with.

Tell me a bit about your experience growing up in Mexico.

Astrid Garcia: I am really lucky. I had a great childhood – in Mexico, family is a huge cultural focus, so we would often have huge gatherings of our entire extended families and just all play together in the streets. There were no iPads then [laughs]. My parents were always looking to give us the best. They taught us—my sister, my brother, and I—to value hard work and that we could achieve whatever we wanted if we were patient and consistent.  I was in Mexico for thirty years of my life, so I spent a lot of my adulthood there as well.

How did you discover your passion for design?

AG: When I was sending applications to college and deciding what I was going to study, I was between being a chef, going to business school and learning interior architecture; my mom wanted to be an architect when she was younger, but she couldn’t— architecture was even more male-dominated in her day. My mom ended up studying psychology, but she didn’t find a passion for it. When I started studying architecture, I was like, “Oh! I like this!” It was perfect for me – it’s a good balance of art and creativity with technical elements.

When I was a child, I had a lot of problems understanding and learning in school. I didn’t know this at the time, but it turns out I had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). I had terrible grades. I always thought, “maybe I’m not smart,” or “maybe I have a bad memory.” I was bullied because of that – I was called stupid or laughed at for being slow. When I started in college with architecture, I had amazing grades! I was getting perfect scores and I had the best average in my class. I was like, “Woah! I am smart!”

Eventually, everyone wanted to be on my team because of my design work and creative solutions. I finally gained the confidence to try whatever I wanted, even though sometimes it didn’t work out. I had the confidence to start thinking outside the box because I understood the basics.

It was painful when I was younger, but it made me who I am now. I like who I am now.

Why did you decide to come to the US? What was the adjustment like for you?

AG: CRTKL gave a presentation at my college to recruit and present their work to potential applicants. The projects were really cool, but what enticed me most was the opportunity to travel to all the different offices they have around the globe. Their presentation helped broaden my understanding of the AEC industry and opened my perspective of what architecture could be. I applied, interviewed and eventually and got the job! I feel so grateful for that opportunity – it felt like fate. I was in the Mexico City office for my first four years here, and I worked with many different offices in the US. My first time in America was when I went to our Dallas, TX office.

At that time, Donald Trump had just been elected president, and he was often in the press for slandering Mexico and defaming Mexican people. I remember being afraid going in that people wouldn’t accept me or would be mean to me. But my experience could not have been further from that, thankfully. People were so kind to me, which really changed my perspective and made me feel much more optimistic about living in the United States someday.

Eventually, I felt a bit stuck in Mexico City. I wanted new projects and new challenges to conquer. I decided to speak to my manager about how I was feeling, and they offered for me to move to our Seattle office – but I had never even been! I was able to try it out for three weeks before I decided, so I could meet my coworkers, explore the city a bit and determine if it was a good fit. In the second week of my trial, I had already decided. My coworkers were so welcoming and helpful, and the projects gave me more responsibility and offered a new challenge to conquer. I also really fell in love with the city itself – I actually like the weather! I don’t mind the cold, but the lack of sun did get to me a bit at first. I moved during the winter, so for a while, I was like, “Oh no! What did I do?” But you get used to the lower light. You buy a SAD lamp [laughs]. I’ve been here three and a half years now, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Astrid at Global Shapers in England, 2019

Tell me a bit about your experience with the Global Shapers program.

AG: The Global Shapers program is a network of young employees with under seven years of experience working together to address various local, regional and global challenges. The first time I applied, I was still in the Mexico City office, and I was rejected. I felt bad, but I wasn’t too bummed out – I knew there were tons of applicants and it was only my first try. I applied again next year and was again rejected. That time felt worse. It brought me back to feeling like the dumb kid at school. I had all these voices in my head flooding back, telling me I wasn’t good enough.

I had a friend, Hannah Lim, who was accepted that year and told me about her incredible time. She told me I had to apply again, even though I was deeply afraid of getting rejected for the third time. My friend and other former Global Shapers supported me through the application process this time – before, I had been trying to be what I thought they wanted me to be. This time, my friend told me to be myself and do it my way. In this application, I showed my personality – I even referenced Chuck Norris! And who would’ve thought, this time, I was accepted. I remember reading the acceptance email and just absolutely freaking out [laughs]. I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep!

When I went, my team was tackling the future of mobility. The in-person part of the program is only five days, and the year I went, it took place in London. Before that, we got together, and they divided the 100 participants into teams of seven people. We had to work together for three months virtually – which was actually a pretty good practice exercise for the pandemic! One of the main challenges was finding a time that worked for all of us. I had people from Manila, Italy and the UK and there was only one other person in the US besides me. My time, it was at six in the morning every week. I had to wake up at five to be able to use my brain! Once we each decided on and accepted our roles, it was an amazing team. We connected so well and complimented each other so well— I had such a great experience; they became not only my team, they became my friends.

The project we worked on for those first three months was picked to be further developed. We started the team with seven, and then we expanded to 20 people. We had the brainstorming phase again, but this time, we didn’t have three months— we only had four days. It was chaotic; there were so many great ideas! Before starting this experience, I was less open to brainstorming and different ideas and just wanted to buckle down and get it done. In the program, I realized every new idea complements the last and makes the project better – you just have to be able to listen. That was the biggest lesson I learned: listen and do your best and everything will go well.

When we went to the rehearsal for the big event, we weren’t ready. Our team was full of engineers, HR, all different technical roles, but there wasn’t much representation on the graphics side. There were only two of us that were architects. We were like, “This doesn’t look good!” Back then, I was really afraid of speaking out or saying what I thought if it went against the group.

After being bitten by the organizing team of how unprepared we were, I went back and forth on telling them, but I decided it was my contribution to the team – that’s what I was there for! In the middle of the night, we had a meeting, and I spoke up and told everybody to trust me, I can make this look good; just give me until 7 am. I worked all night with my teammate Ivy. We sent them the presentation and we were going to meet at 9, but I needed more sleep. When I entered the room around 11, they started clapping for me! It was an amazing feeling and really helped me gain confidence. I realized that what I know and can do is valuable: it is all about trusting your abilities. I know I’m not the only one that’s felt this way before. I see many people have the same voices in their head that I do – the voices that tell you, “You aren’t good enough. Who do you think you are?” The fear can make you feel like you’re going to die! The thing is, you don’t have to listen to that voice.

You can do what you want to and what you think is right, even if you feel you can’t.

I’m 33 now, and I finally feel like I can do whatever I want.

What advice would you have for your younger self if you could go back in time?

AG: If I could go back in time, I would tell myself, “Don’t worry too much, don’t try to do it perfectly, don’t try to do it like anyone else, be radically Astrid! Do it your way and everything will be fine. Don’t be too hard on yourself.”

When I was accepted into the Global Shapers program on my third try, it drove that home for me. On the first two applications, I was trying to be the perfect leader. I was trying to be somebody I’m not.

I realized I didn’t need to do that, and not only that, but it was holding me back. I needed to be my own kind of leader, and that’s good enough. I can contribute something new that no one else has thought of before. We are all unique and operate in such different ways – it’s important to remember that. One of the best things you can do for others is to be yourself. The sun shines for everyone!

Author Spotlight

Clare Sausen
Clare Sausen is a Content Writer for CallisonRTKL. Based in Washington, D.C., she leverages her personal and professional experience in journalism, radio, and nonprofit communication to serve as a valuable member of the global firmwide team. Since attaining her Bachelor of Arts degree from George Washington University in Communication and American Studies, she has honed her craft of architectural storytelling across multiple platforms.