Part blog, part oral history, part research project.
How has the Great Recession affected your path beyond college? What is your story?

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Alice is quietly and efficiently brilliant. I knew she was an immigrant but didn’t know the how, when or why, so I asked.

I was born in Korea. My dad likes adventures and my aunt knew about my dad, so my aunt applied for the green card for my dad and my dad decided to just apply for the whole family. She laughs. And after 10 years, we got the green card. I didn't know anything about it at the time... I didn't even know that [we] applied for it. And we just kind of moved in 1998, when I was in middle school.

I naturalized a couple of years ago. All my connections, all my friends are here. I knew that I was going to stay here no matter what. I always wanted to vote—she laughs—and that was time to vote too! 2008, you gotta vote. And right before that, I got naturalized.

Alice has a Bachelor’s degree—she majored in Architecture and minored in City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley.

I was the oldest kid and my mom and dad—they had their own expectations for me. I just kind of followed whatever they wanted. You know, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school and high school and then you go to college and university. After graduation, I didn't know what I was supposed to do. I thought there was something for me to follow. But, you know, you're supposed to decide and I was kind of lost.

It's not like I can talk to my aunts or like some other people that are already graduated. They're all in Korea. If they were [here], it would've been a little bit easier for me. She laughs. And I'm kind of like, "Oh, I need to do it by myself." I need to do it. I can't ask anybody a favor for me. That kind of mindset. So it was just kind of difficult to approach other people than my family...

Basically, I didn't know what to do. I was completely lost. I moved in with my family in San Jose after graduation and I was totally not expecting that. Myself and my parents either. And then I just started searching for job in City Planning.

I thought I would get a job, right after college. I graduated college, I have a degree, I should get a job. But that wasn't the case. And my parents thought I would get a job, be independent and those kind of things. But I moved in with my parents and my parents were very...upset, in a way, and very disappointed. They didn't say it, but, because I was the oldest kid, they were expecting a lot more…Sorry She begins to cry.

They were frustrated. And then I get frustrated, because they were frustrated. You know, you search for a job, you apply, many different places and you get interviewed a couple different places and you kind of expect one would call you back. She laughs. And, that doesn't really happen.

And [my job search] lasted more than six months. And, then your parents start to say, you know, you shouldn't just look for planning and architecture, why are you just doing that? You should just work somewhere else. And they just kind of keep telling you. And it's kind of annoying. She laughs. Because I do have a goal to get some experience in planning and eventually get a full time job. It was very, very stressful. And, you know, you have your younger siblings with you too. It's kind of like...they're looking at me like I'm a bad example, you know? Crying.

Mostly I was applying to city government, because I thought that was the only field that planning can have a job, but then I was kind of discouraged because I don't hear back from them and if I do, after the interview, I don't get the job or the internship. So it was kind of discouraging. I had to work, to live. Even though I was living with my parents, I had to have some kind of income. Just work at Starbucks or just work at Peet's or something, do something, just start working. I didn't want to do those things, because I know if I get comfortable, I would just be there. My education, the whole tuition that I paid for over four years and all the courses I take, that would just go away. It would be totally useless. So, I tried to avoid those kinds of things as much as possible as long as possible and then, you know, you kind of have to start working.

That's when I went outside of planning and architecture. I just applied to any administrative positions and then I got a legal assistant position at this small law firm. I worked there about a year. I didn't really expect to work there that long. I thought within at least six months or so, that I would leave and start working in planning, but it didn't work. I think working and searching [for a job] was a lot difficult than just searching. But it was a lot better in psychological way, because I was working and doing something instead of just looking.

Alice began taking classes in urban planning and geographic information systems (GIS) in the evenings, working towards a professional certification.

When I was taking the urban planning GIS course, a classmate actually got an internship [and then] left right after, because she got a full time position [elsewhere]. So I applied, got to interview and then got the [intern] position, started working. I don't know why it didn't occur to me that I should get an internship while I was in college, but I didn't, ever. I guess I didn't really have concept of getting job, in order to get the job and start earning income, you need to have some experience, not only the education part.

I thought, you go to elementary, middle school, high school, college and get a job. I thought that was the whole thing and you don't really have to try to do it. I thought if you get good grades in college then you automatically get a job, but that wasn't the case. I'm a pretty positive, optimistic person, so I was like, 2 to 3 months, I'll get a job. You know? I'll get a job. I was pretty optimistic. And then that kind of diminishes every month. She laughs.

There weren't many full time positions opening. Most of the positions were either internship or part time or temporary positions. So it was really difficult, but even if it was just internship, part time, temporary positions, competition was amazing. Like, I apply for [assistant planner] and they call me for interview and I went there, there were like, 20, 30 people waiting for the interview. If you think about how many people already applied and they selected those people to interview, I was awed. I was awed.

Alice’s parents have moved back to Korea. She continues to look for full time employment, while taking care of her two younger siblings.