Student Stories: Aby Cardenas Arcila

Aby Cardenas Arcila


Major: Fashion Studies

Aby Cardenas Arcila left her home and her country to follow a dream.

Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Cardenas Arcila had imagined making her own clothes since the age of 12. She decided to come to the U.S. to learn in an environment that provided more resources and opportunities than she could find in Colombia.

“I had big dreams and they required big sacrifices,” she said. “I came with my student visa, lots of expectations, faith and excitement. It was hard for me to leave my family, but I wanted to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures and ultimately become a great fashion designer.”

Cardenas Arcila chose College of DuPage because she was looking for schools with fashion programs that were also affordable.

“When I came to campus for the first time and saw the display cases full of student work in the Fashion Studies area, I fell in love with the program,” she said. “There was nothing like it at home. 

“However, when I started, I still felt homesick and alone, and I showed up late for my first class. But I never gave up. I reminded myself of the opportunity I had that my family did not. It was tough and overwhelming at times, but I learned how to get through the struggle.”

That included learning how to sew. Even though she had received a sewing machine for her birthday, Cardenas Arcila didn’t know how to use it and didn’t have someone who could show her.

“At COD, I found my place in front of a sewing machine,” she said. 

During her first summer, Cardenas Arcila couldn’t afford to take classes, so she looked for opportunities to serve the community. Through VolunteerMatch, she began to volunteer once a month at Bridal Boutique by New Name, which sells donated wedding dresses and uses the profits to support women who are victims of sex trafficking.

Cardenas Arcila completed her adventure by earning an Associate in Applied Science in Fashion Design. In doing so, she was named one of the College’s Outstanding Graduate finalists.

“When I first started this adventure as an international student, I didn’t even know how to sew,” she said. “The first semesters were full of excitement but also many challenges that, at the time, I didn’t know I would be facing. By the end of my degree, I had made an entire fashion collection and learned many valuable lessons about finding myself in a different country and trusting God in the process.”

As a girl, Cardenas Arcila dreamed of attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, so her next goal is to save money to transfer there and earn a bachelor’s degree. Describing her style as classy, elegant, young and fresh, she would like to gain experience working in the industry before opening her own business. She also is interested in doing something meaningful and would like to pursue sustainable fashion.

Cardenas Arcila is glad she took advantage of the opportunity to pursue her dream, and she thanks COD for helping her get that start.

“College of DuPage will always have a big space in my heart,” she said. “The Fashion Studies program was the first place where I felt that I really belonged, where I discovered that dreams and concepts can become real, that struggling and many times getting frustrated are not the stopping point but part of the process. They are at times necessary to build character and overcome challenges. I know the things I have learned at COD about myself and others will be useful to face new challenges and opportunities.”

More about the Fashion Studies program