An education-abroad trip to China this past summer got Kent State University student Garmai Matthew started on the path to actualizing her dream of promoting sustainable fashion. Matthew, an economics major with an international business and Chinese minor, along with five other Kent State students collaborated on research projects with students from Hebei Normal University in the Shijiazhuang Province of China during a three-week, field-experience trip.
Kent State is implementing initiatives to help more diverse students broaden their educational experiences by studying abroad. Matthew joins a growing number of minority and underserved students at Kent State who are choosing to study abroad.
For her project, Matthew focused on creating a sustainable garment inspired by the art and historical sights of China.
“I am very passionate about changing fashion’s current manufacturing industry through implementing more ethical and sustainable practices,” Matthew said. “Today’s fashion designers are finding eco-friendly ways to create garments without depleting the world’s natural resources. My main focus is manufacturing and making sure there are ways to mass produce garments without harming the earth.”
Learning the Culture and Language
The education-abroad experience gave Matthew the opportunity to explore another interest area: her love of the Chinese language. She was able to practice speaking the language, and she developed interpersonal skills with natives.
“I barely spoke English to my peers from Hebei Normal University,” she said. “Chinese sparks my interest because, in my opinion, it is a language that many companies that shape our world today must know. China is a manufacturing hub for various industries: fashion, automobile, computer-related machinery, etc., and manufacturing is the prime source of pollution in this world. The only way I can make a change in the area of sustainable manufacturing is to learn the language to be able to communicate with the people responsible for pollution problems.”
During her education-abroad trip, Matthew become aware of issues within the garment manufacturing industry in China, and she experienced how companies are taking initiative to improve their manufacturing practices in order not to contribute to pollution. The education-abroad trip also afforded her the opportunity to experience and explore Chinese culture and history.
“Diving into the culture of China, especially historical landmarks like the Great Wall of China, truly taught me that there is so much to explore in this world,” Matthew said. “When I sat at the highest point of the Great Wall of China, I felt a sense of accomplishment. That experience taught me that my goals are within reach, and with some hard work and initiative, it can all be mine.”
Building Confidence Through International Travel and Education
“Going to China taught me that my dreams are valid,” Matthew said. “If I can conceive it, I can achieve it, literally! Going to China taught me the importance of knowing other languages and gaining wider perspectives on cultures other than my own. Coming from a Liberian, West-African background, a lot of the Chinese foods tasted like our own traditional dishes. Plenty of rice, fish and vegetables in our meals truly reminded me of my home-cooked meals.”
Since returning from China, Matthew has become more confident in her abilities and more passionate about the Chinese language.
“I am definitely more resilient and fearless than I ever have been before, and I now know the value of learning another language; it is an investment in my future,” she said. “I have definitely caught the travel bug, so I feel the need to travel everywhere. This trip has taught me that I can do a lot with very little; and if I seek the resources here at Kent State, I can more than likely make my dreams come true. Overall, this trip has made me value my education at Kent State even more.”
Matthew’s advice for other diverse students seeking an education-abroad experience is to expand their horizons and soar to new heights.
“Once you own a passport, every nation, no matter how far, is yours to explore,” she said. “We are taught to live and survive in America, but we are ill-informed on ways for us to become international powerhouses. Once you get your passport, the world is literally yours. That little booklet allows you to travel far and wide. You can always find resources to get from point A to point B, but first, you must have a passport.”