One Grad's Story: New Big City, No Job

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By MARTHA IRVINE -- AP National Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — The girl from Texas didn't bring a warm coat with her. But to hear Kimberly Bratton tell it, winter in Chicago isn't as bad as people say.

Never mind that it's only December. She is an optimist, an adventurer — one who picked up and moved to a city where she knew no one, with no job, in the middle of a recession.

"I always wanted to be that girl who moved away and saw what was out there ... the girl working in the big city," says Bratton, who graduated from the University of Texas this summer.

So far, it's meant taking office temp jobs and lining up babysitting gigs while she networks, sends applications and schedules the occasional interview. She's looking for a job in advertising and public relations, a field that is usually bustling in Chicago.

But many agencies, she's finding, aren't even taking interns right now.

"They always say, 'Check back, check back. We don't have anything right now. Check back,'" says Bratton, who's 22.

It's been like that since September, when she and her parents packed a U-Haul with her belongings — among them, a bed, a dresser, a desk. They headed north from the family's home in Bedford, Texas, between Dallas and Fort Worth, to the third-floor flat Bratton rented with roommates she found in an online ad.

It was all part of her plan to move to the city she fell in love with her sophomore year of college, shortly after she chose her major and her career. She'd planned to finish school in December, but was so ready to get here, she crammed in her remaining classes over the summer and graduated in August.

For starter cash, her parents let her keep the remainder of the college fund she would have spent this semester.

But after that, they said, she was on her own.

"So be prepared to do whatever it takes," said her father, Stan Bratton, an insurance broker.

He recalls how, when he graduated from college, he "never saw another dime" from his parents. And while he and his wife are willing to be a safety net for their daughter, they also want her to learn to make it on her own.

"I think that's the reality of trying to budget around your own money instead of budgeting around your parents' money," he says.

It's meant that Bratton had to spend her first Thanksgiving away from her family. It's also meant living in a sunny but sparsely furnished apartment, with most of her belongings tucked into a tiny bedroom with no closet (she keeps her clothes in a wardrobe in the dining room, near the foosball table).

But still, there's the positive spin. "Our landlord tells us this is his prettiest apartment," Bratton says, noting that she and her roommates will soon hang artwork on their currently barren walls.

This is home, she says, firmly. This is where she wants to be.

Yes, some people have questioned her decision to move to the city without a job, though others in the field tell her it's the only way to break into Chicago's competitive PR and advertising market.

Some have shared that it took them at least six months to find a job in the field. In this current economy, it's anyone's guess how long it could take.

Though money has gotten tighter — and the temp jobs have been slow to come in — Bratton's parents have become constant cheerleaders for the young woman who was a cheerleader herself all through middle and high school.

"Keep with it. Keep with it," they tell her. "You're fine."

Still, the cold reality of the job market creeps in sometimes, recently, for instance, when she had a second interview for a job she really wanted, but didn't get.

"I'm kind of freaking out. Maybe I'm not fine," Bratton recalls telling her parents over the phone.

"Sometimes," she says, "maybe I want them to get a little more worried."

Recently, she asked the parents who taught her to pay off her credit card balance what would happen if she didn't do that. She's also bracing herself to ask them for money, though she knows it'd be just a loan.

"I will definitely have to pay my parents back — oh yeah, ohhhh yeah," she says, nodding.

She doesn't want to have to ask them. But it's also a huge relief to know they always "have her back," something her father — her fellow optimist in the family — says is true.

"We'd always make sure she doesn't end up sleeping on the street, but we're going to help her make some tough decisions," he says. "It's kind of cold turkey, but it's not really cold turkey."

Bratton has found other sources of moral support, too, including a college friend's dad, who works in PR, as well as her two roommates, both students and already trusted friends. And she's tapped into the local chapter of "Texas Exes" and the fellow Texas grads who often gather at the same local watering hole.

It helps ease the stress.

She also half jokes that, when she goes home to Texas for Christmas, it'll be a little vacation from having to spend money. Once there, she'll visit with her parents and her brother, who lives in Thailand — and regroup.

Then she'll come back and start all over again, with a vow to make it through the cold winter, and the cold economy.

She'll remind herself how lucky she feels to be here; how her $600 share of the rent in Chicago is less than she was paying in Austin; and how glad she is to not be a student anymore.

"OK, yes, I can do this," she'll tell herself, again. "I need to do this."

The eternal optimist also will probably break down and get that warm winter coat.

Martha Irvine is an AP national writer. She can be reached at mirvine(at)ap.org or via myspace.com/irvineap.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

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