15 Months in Chicago: 15 Things I’ve Learned

 

Similar to the fact that I can no longer say “I just graduated,” I can now no longer use the phrase “I just moved here” when talking about Chicago. I will have officially been a resident of the Chi for 15 months come this October.  While I’ve had my share of ups and downs, I could not be happier to call this place home. Yeah, I’ve thought about picking up and moving to Alaska just for fun, but at the end of the day, I don’t think I could bring myself to leave this place quite yet. Here are just a few all-encompassing things I’ve learned from my time in the city- some vague and applicable to any situation, some incredibly specific to the Windy City (ALL THE HOT DOGS).

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1. It’s more than okay to be by yourself.
Moving from small town, middle-of-nowhere Clemson, SC, to the 3rd largest city in the United States definitely took some getting used-to. During my first two months here, I had the unfortunate luxury of having an aggressive amount of free time (yay #funemployment); however, during that time, I spent the majority of my days completely by myself, and I loved it. Whether it was exploring a new route downtown, trying out a new coffee shop, or taking a long run along the lakeshore, I learned to love being alone. To quote the wonderful F. Scott Fitzgerald- “I like large parties, they’re so intimate.” Well, my large party is the city of Chicago.

2. Always be cognizant of your surroundings.
Alright, this applies to several things. Yes, sometimes Chicago is known as a dangerous city (okay, more than sometimes). But, for me, this means knowing where you are and how to navigate without having to use Google maps on your iPhone. For me, the first time I was able to get on the El and not have to use my phone to tell me which stop I needed to get off at, was a huge victory. My first couple of months here, I was constantly asking cab drivers what neighborhood we were in at the time so that I could work on getting my bearings, and it definitely paid off in the long run. Now, I’m able to tell you that I actually really liked Pilsen and that River North isn’t necessarily my favorite area. Plus, the South Side has some damn good fried chicken- here’s looking at you, Harold’s.

3. Get out of your bubble, and do it often.
I happen to live in one of the more family-friendly neighborhoods in Chicago, a pretty nice one at that, and I absolutely love it. There’s plenty of amazing restaurants and bars, and my backyard is comprised of both the Lincoln Park Zoo and the beach at Lake Michigan. So, yeah, I have it pretty good. Sometimes, though, it is so important to force yourself to get out and go out of your comfort zone. I know this is said far too often, but getting out and experiencing something new is so so vital to living in a big city.

4. Root, root, root for the home team.
So it’s no secret that I know absolutely nothing about hockey. But you better know that I went out and purchased a Blackhawks shirt when I moved to the city, because, well, it’s the Blackhawks. And who cares if the Cubs aren’t all that great. You go to the games and you better root for the cubbies. If not for anything else, it’s an excuse to get a footlong and an Old Style and wreak havoc in Wrigleyville afterwards. Plus- a city so great, we have two baseball teams? Don’t hate that.

5. Weather reports are completely insignificant. IMG_3972
Spring? Oh, you mean the season that it is supposed to start getting warmer? Because in Chicago, it snowed in May this year. ALWAYS carry an umbrella on you because 10% chance of showers oftentimes means downpour, and 70 degrees oftentimes means a little over 40 degrees. You could be at the beach one day, and wearing a scarf the next. There is literally no way to prepare yourself for any type of weather in this city.

6. When it’s nice out, go outside, because come November you’ll have to hibernate.
On a similar note to #5, yes, the winters here really are that bad. Or, at least this past winter was. -15 degree days, nose-hairs freezing, and going out at night in snow-boots was the norm. I kid you not, one news article advised city residents to ‘check on their neighbors for signs of life.’ I will never forget my 10 minute walk back from the El station on my way home where my legs started to go numb and I had to sprint the rest of the way for fear of my life. Thanks, Polar Vortex, this past winter was great.

7. Public transportation is not nearly as bad as it seems.
When I first moved here, it took me a full week before I decided to brave public transit. I was terrified. At Clemson, I think I took the CAT bus a grand total of two times, and living in DC, the metro was actually pretty easy to navigate the few times I did take it. One thing that genuinely surprised me about Chicago public transit is that I like taking the bus better than taking the El (Chicago’s train system, dubbed ‘the El’ because it is elevated). Even people that have cars (RIP PDjeep) take public transportation to commute because driving (and parking) in the city is such a pain. One rule for the bus and train: it is NOT the time to catch up with your long-lost BFF.

8. Sometimes it’s really fun to play tourist.
Personally, I think it’s the most fun to play tourist. I did it when I lived in DC, and I will never turn down an opportunity because it ‘might be too touristy.’ Except for maybe Navy Pier. Playing tourist is honestly the best way to get to know the city and it never really gets old (for me, at least). Hit up The Bean on your lunch-break, walk down Michigan Avenue amongst all of the other tourists, take an Architectural Boat Tour, eat a deep dish pizza. These are the things people like to do when they come to visit the city, so, shouldn’t the people that actually live here like to do them, as well?

9. It’s called ‘Three One Two,’ not ‘Three Twelve.’
I will never forget when my favorite bar in Clemson got a brand new beer on tap. Sitting at Loose Change on Tijuana Tuesday, the bartender told me that they had just got a new beer called ‘Three Twelve,’ a wheat beer that actually tasted pretty good. It quickly became my favorite, without me having any sort of background on the brew. Fast-forward to seeing that ‘three twelve’ was on tap at one of the first bars I went to in Chicago- you would have thought I had 6 heads the way the bartender looked at me. Friends, it is ‘Three One Two,’ for Chicago’s area code. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

10505602_10203885429074689_5454339937132634881_n10. There’s never an inappropriate time to eat a Chicago dog.
Whether you’re at a Cubbies game, running late for a flight at O’Hare, or late night post-bars, hot dog craving are always acceptable. BUT- you better get them Chicago-style, aka everything under the sun on your dog making it almost impossible and completely unattractive to eat. So. Damn. Good.

11. Everyone owns a dog.
Speaking of dogs, I fully believe that 2/3 people in this city own a dog. I’m not complaining in the least- more for me to gawk at when I’m walking around. ‘Can I pet your dog?’- daily occurrence.

12. “I went to Clemson.” “Ohhhh, wait, so what state is that in, again?”
Ahhhhh the Midwest. Gotta love it. Actually, I really do like the Midwest and all of it’s people. However, with that said, I am frequently asked ‘what Clemson is,’ ‘what city Clemson is located in,’ and ‘ohhh, how do you like North Carolina?’ Things also get reallyyy interesting when I throw a ‘y’all’ in there.

13. ‘Tour de Chicago’ means ‘Eat Absolutely Everything.’
This is probably my favorite thing about this city. There is so. much. food. Endless brunch options. So much pizza, you could eat it every night and never got bored of it. The best bagels on the entire planet- no, seriously, Chicago Bagel Authority is a gift from the gods. Another gift from above- Portillo’s. Garrett Popcorn’s Chicago mix, cheese and caramel popcorn mixed together, can turn any bad day into the best day. I could go on forever.

14. There’s always money in the banana stand.
Couldn’t resist throwing in an AD reference. This one is pretty personal for me, since I have now gone through 4 jobs in a little over a year. At my first job, people always asked me- “so, you moved to Chicago to work here?” And my answer to them was simple- no, I moved to Chicago to move to Chicago. The job part came second. Money comes and goes, and so do jobs. If you need to make money somehow, go out and make it. You’ll learn a hell of a lot out about yourself in the process. I’m 23 years old; of course I haven’t quite figured it all out yet. But one thing I do know for certain- I love this city.

15. I couldn’t be happier to call Chicago my home.
While moving to Chicago is one of the best decisions I could have ever made, I miss everyone I left behind terribly. However, I have had the extreme fortune of creating some incredible friendships in this city, while experiencing city life with friends I already had, and even re-connecting with some old ones (thanks Anna, for being my oldest friend and still managing to deal with me). I could not be more grateful for these past 15 months of my life, and I cannot wait to see what’s in store next (cliche, but whatever). 

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2014, let’s see what you’re made of

Let’s start this off on an honest note: I debated for a pretty long time about whether or not I would write a synopsis of 2013/welcome to 2014 post. In terms of articles and things people talk about, it’s pretty high on the popularity list, hence I didn’t want to just be another post among the Facebook statuses, tweets, and other buzz you saw in the final days of December. In my defense, I’ve also had quite a bit happening in the last couple of weeks: going home for Christmas, best friends visiting the Windy City for almost a week before New Year’s Eve, winning the Orange Bowl, turning 23, and surviving the deathly Polar Vortex cold, also known as #ChiBeria (this last one is still up for debate). Now that the chaos has died down a little bit, here I am, nestled in my apartment in Old Town Chicago, watching the snow fall (once again) outside my window, and a Daisy Cutter in a coozie next to me. 2014, you look pretty dashing so far- besides the potential frostbite.

I find myself very fortunate to be the same age for practically an entire calendar year (does this make me weird?), so 2013 and 22 go synonymously for me. That being said, 22 brought a lot of ups and downs. There were the obvious big life events that happened: graduated college, moved to Chicago, got a job. But to me, what’s more important than the big moments is the details put in to them. And it’s the details that I want to remember about 2013, not the big events.

IMG_0106My final semester of my Senior year at Clemson was probably one of the hardest for me (yep, even harder than Freshman year) because, to me, it meant that change was coming. I have never, ever, been good with change. The idea of change- I am absolutely infatuated with it. But actually putting my feet on the ground and going through the motions is just something that is really hard on my soul, no matter how much I crave it and no matter how good it is for my well-being. However, even though it was a hard one, that final semester Senior year was probably my favorite one, filled with incredible memories with amazing people.

It is this fear of change that kept me at Clemson for a month after graduating. No plans, zero to little money- just me watching all of my friends pack up their things and move onto the next chapter in their lives. Don’t get me wrong- that was a pretty good month. There was a lot of sleeping in ’til who knows when, sitting at the pool for who knows how long, and taking ridiculous road trips to who knows where with my fellow vagabond Melissa, who stuck around for that month in Finley with me, thank goodness. But at the same time, it was extremely terrifying. This time, I knew that change was imminent: it needed to happen.

IMG_1752Flash-forward two months and I am driving 13 hours to Chicago in a rental sedan packed with everything I could manage to fit. Did I have a plan? Nope. Was I terrified beyond all belief? You betcha. But it was the most excited I had ever been for anything in my entire life. I couldn’t count on two hands how many people told me I was crazy for doing what I did, but it is probably the proudest I have ever been of myself. This was something I did not need to do; I could have easily lived at home, saved some money, been comfortable in a city I already knew, and been completely fine. But, hey, where’s the fun in that? 

This is nothing against those who did something along those lines; to be quite honest, I commend you. However, for me, if I had done that I just know that I would not have been happy or fully satisfied. But you go, glen coco.

It hasn’t been a walk in the park; I will be the first one to admit that. There have been a lot of rough days where I have wanted to give up and take the first flight home. I even reserved floor space at one of my friend’s apartments in DC in the event that that might happen. But I will say one thing- having the extreme fortune to live with one of my most cherished friends in this city that we both used to call home when we were younger has made this process so much better than it could have been. I’ll say it once, and I’ll say it again- the life that Laura and I lead would make an extraordinary reality show.

So, again, here I am on January 9th, freshly 23 years old, fully employed, and feeling like a true Chicago-an, meaning I am freezing to death walking to work every morning in -11 degree weather. In all seriousness, I’ve come pretty damn far from the girl who stayed in Clemson because she was too terrified of what would happen next, and it’s hard to believe it’s only been 7 months since then.

2014, I’m pretty jazzed to see what you have in store for me. I learned quite a bit more about myself than I thought I would last year, so, swing away- I’m sure I can handle it.

PS- I’ve included my Spotify playlist that was never very far from me during June-December of 2013. There’s a lot of John Mayer on it, sue me.

What I Want To Be Now That I’ve Grown Up

As a recent college graduate, here’s how a typical conversation goes upon just being introduced to someone new:

“Ah, Communication Studies. So, what do you plan to do with that degree, actually?”
“In a nutshell, I hope to go into social media, marketing, advertising, digital media, editorial content….”
“That’s a little ambitious, don’t you think?”

And you know what- no, I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘too ambitious.’ My four years in college taught me that lesson. Well, maybe not the first two years, but once that switch flipped my junior year, I knew that I was starting to figure it out. Figuring what out, exactly, I wasn’t too sure of then. Fortunately, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what direction I’m headed in these days. All this being said, my brain rarely ever stops being in overdrive (with the exception to two occasions: driving with the windows down, and being near any large body of water), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I grew up thinking I wanted to write for a magazine. I imagined that I would be the next editor-in-chief of my own fashion magazine, and it would be just like the movies. There was one problem with this scenario: I am completely blind when it comes to fashion. No, seriously, I can barely dress myself. I am fortunate to be friends with two of the most fashionable people I have ever met: Lauren, my roommate of two years (THANK GOD), and Laura, my future roommate (!!!). They are the only reason I look even halfway decent when I walk out the door. So, my dreams of working in the fashion industry quickly faded, but my love of writing held steadfast.

Fast-forward to college. I knew that since writing was very much a part of who I was, I needed to continue my education in the field. English major? Nah, I don’t really see myself becoming the next J.K. Rowling (not that I’ve thrown that out the window completely…). Ideally, I would have majored in journalism, but, unfortunately, Clemson did not have that as an option. Even as I sit here and write this, I am so thankful that Clemson didn’t have a journalism degree, because, if they had, I would not have discovered my love for my field: communications. I decided to major in communication studies because I knew that writing was a part of the curriculum, but I really wasn’t sure what else the program would offer me.

After my first two years of general education classes, figuring out who I was, yada yada yada, I started to get bored. Don’t get me wrong, I was having a blast. I was probably having too much fun, actually. But professionally and mentally, I just wasn’t satisfied. I needed experience, so I went and got some. I started writing for The Black Sheep, a national and local college newspaper that focused on things that they believed college students to be interested in: mainly alcohol and food. I wrote about flasks, fast food, and being a fiscal college student, all with a dash of sarcasm and witty humor. I loved it, but it was easy. So, I began to write for The Tiger, Clemson’s student newspaper. Again, I wasn’t writing the hard-hitting news stories, but I didn’t want to. I stuck to what I was good at: Super Bowl commercials and Saturday Night Live sketches. It was safe to say that I wasn’t bored anymore, but I had been bitten by the bug of wanting more.

Remember that farfetched dream I had of being the editor-in-chief of a magazine? Yeah, well that’s what I did next. I founded and ran Clemson’s chapter of Her Campus, the nation-wide online magazine for collegiate women. I am absolutely so proud of the work I did with Her Campus Clemson; creating something from nothing, recruiting and managing a team of writers, running all social media accounts, and working with other organizations and businesses to create promotions and spread the word about HC Clemson. This experience was one of the most rewarding things for me because it was the first time I took matters into my own hands and didn’t really accept no for an answer. After being turned away from so many other opportunities to get involved on Clemson’s campus, I used the rejection I received as fuel for my fire. The year that I spent as Editor-In-Chief of HC Clemson, it was the only thing I could talk about. I lived and breathed HC Clemson because I wanted everyone else to be just as passionate about it as I was. Whether it was pushing out content via any and all social media accounts, speaking at club meetings across campus, or skipping my tailgating time to host gameday giveaways, I was bringing the voice of Her Campus Clemson to the masses, and I wouldn’t have traded this experience for the world.

In the summer of 2012, I was also fortunate enough to have two incredible internships, both in fields I was really excited to explore. Again, at this point in my life, I was still trying to figure out what direction I was headed in; I knew it was communications, but what facet? Where was my niche? Would I ever truly find out where I was headed? [cue dramatic music] First, I interned as a hospitality intern for The Memorial Tournament, and you can learn all about my experience in this blog post. In addition to everything stated in that blog post, I truly learned so much about hospitality, customer satisfaction, and working with a team to create a seamless and smooth experience for the tournament patrons. My second internship was with the advertising agency White+Partners, where I served as the Media and Account Management intern. Prior to this internship, I knew that I had an interest in advertising (see previous blog post), but I wasn’t sure of how much I would enjoy it from the other side of the curtain. As the Media Intern, I was able to learn the nitty gritty details of what went into advertising and the process of working with various media outlets, whether it be radio, digital, print, or television. I was also introduced to the Account Management side, which involved working directly with clients and serving as the liaison between clients and the rest of the agency.  I was just so excited to dive in and experience all facets of the advertising industry; I never turned down an opportunity to get more involved with the agency and I ended up coming away with invaluable experience and knowledge. I am truly grateful for these two summer internship opportunities.

Throughout all of these experiences, I was (not-so-secretly) having a love affair with social media. Something about social media is just so glamorous to me, and I hope that never fades. To me, social media is just so incredible not because it introduces an entirely different angle of marketing and reaching the consumer; social media humanizes corporations and turns consumers into brand ambassadors. In short, no company today will be reaching its full potential without a social strategy, or at least online presence. Once I started to feel as though I was an expert on social media from the consumer standpoint, I wanted to try my hand at the other side of the curtain. I created the Twitter account @ClemsonGirlProb back in October of 2011, and have now garnered close to 5,000 followers. The purpose of this Twitter handle was initially for me to further my obsession with social media, but it quickly turned into much more than that. I started doing a lot of trial and error to see what worked and what didn’t work in terms of reaching my targeted audience, and I am proud to see that I reached over 3,500 followers before I let anyone know that I was the person behind the anonymous Twitter account. I figured out a specific voice for the Twitter handle, and I stuck to it. I made it a priority to use this profile to serve as a source for all Clemson female (and some male) fans for consistent and relevant information and commentary on what was going on in the Clemson community. It was from this experience that I learned how human social media is, and that there is no “9-5” time scale for it to be constricted to. I learned that social media is a never-ending conversation, and that in order to be successful at social media, you need to constantly be plugged in and listening to your audience in order to respond properly. In addition to @ClemsonGirlProb, I also responded to the rise of the #WhatShouldWeCallMe Tumblr accounts and created one specific for Clemson students, #WhenInClemson. As rewarding as it was for me to see my friends posting links to this account on their Facebook pages without realizing that it was me, it was even more rewarding to track the page visits using Google Analytics. At the height of the Tumblr page, I was seeing upwards of 10,000 clicks per day, and several times I had to take a step back and realize what was happening.

This is when it dawned on me: I loved interacting with audiences, no matter what the platform. Whether it be through advertisements that consumers would see, hear, watch; content being pushed out via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other social networking sites that users could interact with by making viral or responding to; and, of course, just general interaction with people about something you are passionate about.

My love for social media lead me to many great things at Clemson. First, I was grateful to have earned the position as the first ever Social Media Intern for the Clemson University Division of Student Affairs. This experience only furthered my passion for all things social media and really continued to open my eyes as to how social media can be used to reach audiences. Since Clemson is something that I am passionate about, it was really rewarding for me to be able to combine two of my biggest passions in a professional setting and to see my ideas come to fruition. My experience in social media continued as I completed two creative inquiries with Clemson’s own Social Media Listening Center, a gift given to Clemson University by Dell and Radian6. During my time working with the SMLC, it really hit me how extremely vital social media is in today’s rapidly expanding society, and having the opportunity to work with the Radian6 technology was truly an honor that I am very fortunate to have been given.

During my last year as a Clemson student, I knew that I wanted to get just a little more experience. By this time, I had finally figured out what I enjoyed doing, and I couldn’t have found a more perfect position for me. My senior year, I had the esteemed privilege to serve as Chipotle Mexican Grill’s Student Brand Ambassador for Clemson University. Yes, that’s right; I was getting paid to spread the Chipotle love to the Clemson community. I read something once that said to “figure out what you love to do without getting paid, and that is what you should be doing for the rest of your life.” Well, to say that I am obsessed with Chipotle Mexican Grill is an understatement, so I knew that I could not pass this opportunity up. As I told the regional marketing manager during my interview, even if they didn’t give me the official title, I would still promote Chipotle and be an asset to their brand new Clemson location. Since the chain is not very prominent in the South (read: I went to Chipotle everyday after high school, my friends from the South did not), I felt that it was my responsibility, long before Clemson even had a Chipotle, to introduce the wonderful world of Chipotle Mexican Grill to my fellow peers. Once I got the job, however, it became official. I was constantly tweeting, posting on Facebook, handing out promotion cards, speaking at organization’s chapter meetings, and just spreading my love for Chipotle to everyone around me, especially those that were new to Chipotle and their mission of ‘Food With Integrity.’

So, here I am. A college graduate, ready for life’s next big adventure. I am headed to Chicago and I can’t wait for the next chapter of my life to begin. But, in response to the question posed to me at the beginning of the blog post, here’s what I plan on doing with my degree in Communication Studies: creating content and streamlining it to audiences. My passion for social media and marketing, combined with my natural tenacity and curiosity, make me an absolute asset to a team in a fast-paced work environment.

I’m finally grown up, and I couldn’t be more excited. Adulthood is supposed to be fun, right? Well, if that’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

PS- If you made it through this entire post, I commend you.