Catalans Abroad

Anna Schlegel

Vice president of the leading data storage company NetAp

The land of opportunity

Why did you leave Catalonia?
I left Catalonia not knowing that I would stay in the States for more than a year or two. In that sense, I was not leaving Catalonia. I did not know I was. It was an adventure in 1992 to experience the US. For love, for youth, for my adventurous spirit… because I have lived in different countries: England and Germany, and travelled a lot and spent a lot of time in Japan, Bangalore, Munich, Beijing...
Why did you choose Sant Francisco?
I initially spent about two months in Los Angeles, to see if that were a place I could thrive, live in. However, I got a job at the San Francisco Airport and while visiting the town for a weekend I fell in love immediately. San Francisco felt more familiar, more like the towns I had grown up in, like Girona, Barcelona, or Berlin. I would not need a car to move around (although I did end up caving in and buying one very quickly). San Francisco felt like an incredibly rich town in the arts, the food scene, and a complete melting pot of cultures. I was in my element there.
Are you happy with the job opportunities you found there?
Absolutely, I cannot complain about a thing. This is the land of opportunity, especially landing in Silicon Valley, if you are an investor, in innovation you are like a kid in the candy store. I had my own startup, I managed someone else’s business, I have led globalisation for Fortune Companies. I feel very privileged. The main area I have always focused on is how will a technology product work in any other country, globally. I have developed several methodologies, models and mechanisms to ensure products can function without issues around the world. We take care of the operating systems, encryption issues, global trade compliance, code internationalisation. Mostly things that are naked to the user’s eye.
What do you think is the best thing about living there?
The ocean, the skiing, the largest surf waves in the world, the whales, the places that remind me of the Costa Brava, the opportunity, the number of organisations trying to help the community. Access to incredible education. I can take a class at Stanford or UC Berkeley any day of the week, as an example. As a British friend of mine once said, this is like the promised land! We have lots of nature around, so you can escape very quickly to really forget work! I also like how incredibly friendly Californians are. When I come to Catalonia and I smile at all the faces that look at me I realise that I am not in California anymore, no one smiles back! Unless I know them! Californians will smile at anyone looking at them. It’s pretty easy to start chatting, too. It may not lead anywhere, but folks are friendly here. California is a dynamic place, very democratic, very practical, not too bureaucratic, and full of major innovators. So that combination is pretty intoxicating for me. You can be in a cafe and see Steve Wozniak, or Isabelle Allende, for example.
What would you most like to change?
That California was on the East Coast and so flights would be way faster. I really do think about Catalonia a lot, I am very connected. So, I would change how fast I could go back and forth, or how my family and friends could come here easily!
What do you miss most from home?
My very close family. My mom the most. My dearest school friends. My college friends. So many times, I am here thinking, WOW I wish they could all be here seeing what I see or cooking and eating with me. I do miss a few things that I cannot seem to get here like fuet… Hey, I am from Olot! I miss the Pyrenees, and the Mediterranean, going up and down el Call Jueu with Roser. Getting on a Hobbycat and tipping it over in S’Agaro. Having intense and completely hysterical conversations with Teresa. Having the yearly dinner with my school friends from Girona where we really have such a great time. My school friends, we are all in the same WhatsApp group and talk almost daily. All these things help me not be too homesick!
Do you plan to go back to Catalonia?
I would love to. For now, I visit two to three times a year and try to stay a few weeks at a time. My kids just entered university and we are a very close family; I cannot leave now nor soon. I am also innovating a lot and supporting lots of local nonprofits. But I know I will spend more and more time in Catalonia for sure. I do not have it all figured out yet! I do have a very good friend who helps me dream of renting a van and just roaming around the Pyrenees for days at a time and getting lost. That keeps me hoping. When I am exhausted the van gives me hope!

CATALANS ABROAD Sant Francisco (United States)


Can you recommend a place to have lunch with friends?
I love to take my friends to great fish restaurants like Pacific Cafe in San Francisco, or Sultana in Menlo Park, I live next to an Indian restaurant which according to my Indian friends here is the best in the Bay, it is called Kabab and Curry! We have all flavours, all cultures, we have restaurants from Ethiopia, Catalonia, France, Portugal, Hawaii, Japan, Californian cuisine, you name it, and you pretty much can find it, we even have an East German restaurant. Food trucks are still very active, too. Obviously, Mexican food is incredible here. It is everywhere. Tacos, mole, enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas, and all very affordable and very common!
Where would you have a special dinner for two?
At Ventana, in Big Sur. Or at the Ritz in Half Moon Bay. Spectacular places.
When is the best time of year to plan a visit?
I would say September, as the kids are back in school. Unfortunately, for the past few years, we have had a very intense summer fire season, so maybe in October, when that is over. It depends, if you want to go to Lake Tahoe come in February or March, if you are in for a summer adventure and you want to drive the Pacific Coast, come in June!
What is the best kept secret about the area?
Californians are very understated. You never know if you are standing next to a millionaire or now a billionaire. People are in shorts, flip-flops, no one walks around with nannies and are heads of this or that at Google or run major divisions at Microsoft or Amazon or Apple. Everyone is very used to technology executives here. I think it is very hard for anyone around the world to understand the amount of innovation, talent, and capacity here. It is the largest centre of innovation in the world.
Where are the best places for visitors to stay?
I would stay a few days in San Francisco city, close to Union Square and take many days trips, for example, to see the Sequoias, the widest trees in the world. Walk on the beach and see the power of the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco, walk all over China town, walk down Lombard street, go have a drink at the top of the hotel Mark Hopkins. Walk all along Fillmore street with its dozens of small stores. Go to see an off-Broadway theatre play. Go dancing at night… Go see the San Francisco Opera, or the Symphony, or the Ballet. Go see local museums such as the Asian Art Museum, or the Museum of Craft and Design, or the Museum of Africa Diaspora. I would rent a sailboat and go under the Golden Gate Bridge and have a picnic at the Yerba Buena island or Fort Baker. You will feel so incredibly free and lucky. You can hike the whole Lake Tahoe area; you can be mesmerised and stay in a log cabin in Big sur. From all of this you can then drive to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Ideally, visitors should come for a few weeks! It is a trip of a lifetime. I feel very small here, spaces are so large, there is so much space!
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