Ari Shirinian is the first foreign exchange student to study at Centennial College. Ari comes from Boston, Massachusetts and is an undergraduate at Endicott College, one of our partner institutions in the United States. At the end of the spring semester, we sat down with Ari to ask him about his experience as an exchange student at Centennial and his life in Hong Kong.
How was it adjusting to life in Hong Kong?
I’ve been here since the end of January after arriving from Boston, and right now there's a week before heading out. Being the first exchange student at Centennial has been an eye-opening experience. It’s the first time that I’ve been away from family for so far and so long. I think that a big thing that I’ve gained through this experience, besides from being immersed in an Asian culture and getting accustomed to life here in Hong Kong, is the idea of independence. I feel that the student experience here is more dynamic because my apartment, classes and the gym are all in different locations across the city, which brings a whole other atmosphere to student life than that on a US college campus. Here at Centennial, I can come to campus in the middle of the day, go to the gym, have lunch with friends on the west side of the island, go into the city, and then come back to class in the afternoon. Being able to do all this in the same period of time is unheard of back home.
Was it easy adjusting to student life at Centennial?
The one thing that I can take back home from Centennial and Hong Kong, in addition to the souvenirs and the photos that I’ve taken, are the friendships that I’ve made at Centennial and outside the College. Once school started, it was very easy to make friends here — classmates were very open to accept me as a friend. This was important because I knew no one before coming here. It was challenging at first, but once school started, I got to make friends, and that’s something that I can take back with me. I know that a few students are going to come to Boston for a summer tour, and I plan to reconnect with them and show them my city because they
have done plenty here to show me around.
What sites did you see while in Hong Kong?
I’ve hiked Dragon’s Back and Monkey Mountain. I have really enjoyed hiking here. When I first got to Centennial, a classmate suggested that I really should go hiking because there are many beautiful mountains in Hong Kong. Since then, I’ve hiked on Lantau, Lamma and other islands. Hong Kong has so many islands and it is so green – there really is so much more to Hong Kong than Victoria Harbour and Central. I have, of course, gone to the Peak, the Big Buddha, the former walled city of Kowloon, the Man Mo Temple, Macau, and Happy Valley for the horse races. My first time at the horse races was so fun. It is a great social event — you can go watch the horses and there are tons of people. It really is a good time.
What things surprised you about Hong Kong?
I found that students at Centennial and in Hong Kong were very open and accepting of me. I’ve been able to make really good friends and make immediate connections here in Hong Kong. The quick pace of life here has been eye opening, which is best embodied in Hong Kong’s transportation system – the MTR, buses, minibuses, taxis and trolleys – this city is bustling and on the move nearly twenty-four hours a day. I think that the cha chaan teng also reflects Hong Kong’s hectic urban culture — you order your meal with no conversation, get
it immediately, eat at a shared table with others you don’t even know or talk to, and then be on your way after 10 to 20 minutes. Another eye-opener for me was the culture of lines or queues for buses, restaurants and paying for various things – the culture is very strong here and people take lining up seriously. I also was really pleased by the variety and freshness of live seafood that you can find in the local wet markets and restaurants. It’s better than anything that I’ve seen in Boston, which is also on the ocean.