Quirks of Culture Shock: Winter Edition

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

When the conversation gets to the topic of weather, you’d think it’s small talk material, but Canadian winter – quite the topic. Being born and raised in the warm climate of the desert, moving to Canada was quite an adjustment. It was a new definition of winter, both as a geographical adjustment and a cultural one. Newcomers arriving to Canada are bound to experience adjustments. These can include language barriers, understanding humour and idioms, mannerisms, socially accepted behaviour, milk in bags, and the list goes on.

Other than the typical culture shock one experiences when coming to Canada, its harsh winter is definitely an adjustment change. For some it’s their first time seeing snow! Discovering the power of layering up and checking the weather daily is learnt overtime for many. Arthur has spoken with some international students for a perspective on their first impressions and experiences with Canadian weather, including some advice on how to deal. The big one was clothing. Not only is Canadian winter harsh, one day can vary between 20-30°! The unpredictability of the weather is definitely a big change from a constant temperature of 30°C back home. In the Middle East for instance, it does get cold during winter contrary to what some may believe. However, it’s not as cold and doesn’t include snow – just a lot of rain. The cold is a dry desert cold, but is very predictable.

Trent alumni from Honduras, Mauricio Interiano shares, “Cold weather is a common stereotype. But it’s real and it’s something all international students think about before coming to Canada. Something that I wish someone would have told me before coming here is that Canada is not only very cold, but it also has rapid weather changes and one has to dress appropriately. It’s also a good idea to shop for clothing with a Canadian student to avoid getting ripped off and to make sure to purchase the appropriate items.” Again, because of the unpredictable weather, it’s always a ‘better safe than sorry’ kind of day. When you’re leaving the house and not sure if you’ll need those gloves or that umbrella, just take it and don’t think twice – you never know.

You tend to develop quite a diverse wardrobe having to shop for winter boots and coats, fall boots and even rain boots. It can be difficult to know how to prepare, and even what the weather looks like. Gauging what the weather looks like can be a challenge and it’s important to look at what the weather feels like and check the ‘real feel’ tag on weather apps, and can be useful in seeing how -4°C can be very different depending on the sunlight and windchill – all terms international students may have not even thought about before.

Holly Stark, returning exchange student from England, also known to have cold weather, shares her experience with Canadian winter and some great tips to keep in mind.

“Yeah I think winter can be really shocking to be honest. Even now in my third Canadian inter, it’s just as much of a shock as it was three years ago. It’s a dry cold… Being told how to dress from day one during our winter Trent International Program (TIP) camp was extremely helpful,” says Stark.

Some useful tips to the first-timers and those who don’t think they’ve got winter down yet:

  • Stay hydrated through winter
  • Layer up to avoid getting sick from the change of cold outdoors and very warm indoors
  • Wear one pair of wool socks instead of two cotton socks because you’re feet will sweat and get colder
  • Allow yourself extra time when getting ready to leave the house (like making sure your hair is completely dry after a shower, because it WILL freeze and put you at risk for getting sick)

    Many students and newcomers also share their experience with the low levels of sunlight and the shorter days of winter. This is definitely a quality of winter that even Canadians experience. The differences between seasons can be drastic, and not being used to these particular weather changes your day to day life. For instance, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder in which individuals can experience depression and demotivation from taking in daily tasks. This applies to all seasons, and even though one may not be diagnosed with such a disorder, it is not uncommon for people to display these symptoms and get ‘the winter blues.’ This affects even those who grew up in such a climate and are used to Canadian winters, the love of such weather really comes down to preference. Another tip is Vitamin D supplements, which can help in compensating the lack of sun your body may be receiving and with mood changes.

    Stark also shares, “It gets dark at 4 p.m. and the temptation to stay inside snuggled up in a duvet can be overbearing, but finding new activities to do in order to keep happy, motivated and active over the colder months is really important. There’s still a tonne going on in Peterborough even though it’s winter and there’s a reason to get out and about. From outdoor activities that embrace the snow, to those that keep you wrapped up warm inside. Try new things, keep in touch with TIP, activities and trips.” What great advice.

    Another international student, Nura El Gamri shares a similar perspective and says, “The low levels of sunlight was another thing to get used to and also the time and length of winter itself; thankfully I was able to make Canadian friends who I saw weren’t phased by it and continued to live life, have fun and do winter activities so I guess that motivated me to do the same. I’m not gonna lie and say it wasn’t frustrating at times but it made spring and summer months even sweeter when it arrived.”

    You’re not going crazy if you think Canadian weather can be difficult to deal with, it is undoubtedly a major change even for those who come from countries with colder climates, because it is still a different kind of cold. Students have shared the importance of staying motivated even though winter can make that difficult, and of course, you can learn a lot from making Canadian friends that grew up here as well. It’s safe to say that many newcomers are grateful for their friends that showed them the ropes on Canadian ways and activities.

    A wonderful aspect about Canadian culture is embracing the cold. outdoor activities such as ice-skating and tobogganing are very fun, and it helps you to appreciate the beautiful winter days that aren’t too bad and have just the right amount of snow and wind. Trent hosts some fantastic winter activities, such as Champlain’s Milk Run and broomball where you literally stand on ice and play hockey, but with a broom and a ball. Great fun!

    If anyone has any more advice on how to not only survive, but enjoy Canadian winter, feel free to submit an email to Arthur newspaper (editors@trentarthur.ca) and watch out for the next “Quirks of Culture Shock” article – an insight to the small unseen cultural adjustments that newcomers experience when moving to Canada. Stay warm, folks!