Matthew Thompkins struggled through high school.
“To be honest, Humboldt State was the first school to accept me,” said the Los Angeles native. “I didn’t even visit the campus before enrolling — I just went for it. It was a huge environment shock when I arrived.”
Thompkins soon found that trading the hustle and bustle of Southern California for the laid back Humboldt County lifestyle had its perks. “I came here and I just performed,” Thompkins said.
In May, the 21-year-old walked with an undergraduate degree in International Business Studies and a minor in Chinese Studies. He has since moved to Shanghai, China where he has a full-time job lined up with an electric car software company.
Thompkins said he picked up a few things along the way at HSU that helped him succeed.
“First off, go to the HSU Career Center,” Thompkins said. It was through the Career Center that Thompkins landed his first internship as a freshman working in the District Attorney’s Office in Eureka. Although he quickly decided he didn’t want to be a lawyer, the internship helped Thompkins uncover a latent passion — business.
“The following summer I landed a different internship at a marketing firm. That’s when I decided to major in business,” Thompkins said. “Business allows you to think on the spot — to strategize. I knew those were things I could be good at.”
Thompkins said the internships were key to getting hands-on experience in the field and helping him figure out what he wanted to do.
Another way to get hands on experience was studying abroad, Thompkins said. As an international business studies major, going abroad was an obvious choice for Thompkins — but where he would go was not.
Although Thompkins dreamed of traveling to Japan — he grew up watching Japanese animation cartoons — HSU did not offer a Japanese study abroad program that fit for him. So he decided to be flexible and go with his second choice; a six-month study abroad program in China.
“My plan the entire time was to do the program and then sneak to Japan,” he said. “But once I was in China, it just blew my mind.” Although Thompkins did visit Japan during his time abroad, he ended up embracing the Chinese culture and the language. In fact, it turned out that Thompkins — although the first in his family to study abroad — had a knack for Mandarin Chinese.
“In China I learned the art of studying,” said Thompkins, who estimates that he learned 15 new Mandarin characters a day during his exchange, which he memorized by copying 40 times each. “It wasn’t about competing with anyone. It was all about just learning to learn.”
When Thompkins returned to HSU as a junior, he committed to improving his newfound language skills. He joined the Chinese Language and Culture Club and by his senior year became club president. He also picked up Chinese studies as a minor. But most helpful, Thompkins said, was tapping into the vast pool of Chinese exchange students that attend Humboldt State for help outside of the classroom.
“It was great,” Thompkins said. “The students would correct my sentences. That’s how I kept up with the language. Having those students as a resource helped in a lot of ways.”
When he wasn’t buffing up on his language skills — or practicing the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy — Thompkins said he made the most of his time at HSU by keeping his body fit and practicing good study habits.
“Figuring out a study pattern and staying healthy are important for any new student,” Thompkins said. He kept fit by running in the forest and often visited classrooms late at night to study. “I loved going into classrooms at like 9 p.m. when they were completely empty,” Thompkins said. “I would study for a while and then watch a movie on one of the projectors as a reward to myself.”
Thompkins said creating a plan and sticking to it helped him succeed. The professionalism of his business department professors didn’t hurt either. “I learned a lot from them,” he said, pointing to business administration professor Saeed Mortazavi in particular. “We didn’t talk a lot, but I took away so much from his demeanor — how he handled himself. His seriousness was inspiring.” In the future, Thompkins plans to pursue a masters program in business administration or one that combines technology and business. His ultimate career goal is to start an overseas company based in either the United States or East Asia.