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Home Centennial College Blog 2014 December 01 The International Students Guide to Canadian Winters

The International Student's Guide to Canadian Winters

Picture of a Centennial College international student prepared for winter

December has arrived, and Toronto has already experienced one snowfall. If you’re an international student who’s come here from some place more temperate, it may have taken you by surprise. Perhaps you’ve heard stories about Canada’s cold winters, and assumed they were exaggerated. At one point, we were stereotyped as living in igloos, something everyone knows isn’t true. What is true is that when winter in Canada arrives, it hits hard, and if you’re new to the country, it can be a bit of a shock if you’re not prepared, as testimonials like this one from Canadian Immigrant reveal.

Probably the most important bit of advice I can give is not to shrug it off as no big deal. If you’re from a temperate country, believe me, it will be colder than you had hoped, and frostbite is no joke. The good news is that Canadian winters are completely manageable, so long as you’re prepared.

December isn’t the worst of it, it’s January you need to watch out for

My apologies if it’s obvious, but I went to school with a large number of international students who believed that making it through Christmas meant that the worst of the weather was over. After all, the ice storm that knocked Toronto’s power out in 2013 happened shortly before Christmas. The good news there is that a storm like that isn’t normal for Toronto. The bad news is that the worst of the cold, snow and ice typically hits in the new year, and can linger well into February.

You’ll need more than just a jacket

Bundling up is more important in Canada than you think, and a good pair of gloves with a jacket won’t cut it. Did you know you’ll want to wear sunglasses in the winter? If there’s a solid layer of snow on the ground, and the sun’s out, it will reflect off the surface and create glare. It’s especially important if you’re driving.

In terms of what else you should be wearing, according to Travel and Escape you’ll want to layer, which means including more than a tee shirt under your jacket. Wear a sweater. You’ll also want multiple pairs of socks, so your feet don’t go numb. Speaking of feet, invest in a good pair of boots. They’ll keep the snow out, and help you navigate the ice if the temperature drops too fast. Finally, when there’s a wind chill, you’ll want to keep as much of your face and head covered as possible. If you don’t know, a wind chill is when a cold breeze makes the temperature feel cooler than it actually is, the exact reverse of humidity. Get a hat that covers your ears, and a scarf that can cover your face. On the coldest days, nothing but your eyes should be exposed.

Pay attention to weather forecasts

Every other season of the year, it’s fine to roll with whatever weather the day brings. The worst case scenario is that you’re caught in the rain without an umbrella. In winter, though, you’ll need to be aware of the weather well in advance. It’s important enough for the Canadian government to even consider it important advice. Are there going to be subzero temperatures with a wind chill? Is there going to be 2 meters of snow? Freezing rain? Icy conditions? You’ll need to plan accordingly. Be it on television, radio, or the internet (here’s the Weather Network's site), be aware and be ready to change your plans. And check back regularly, as Canadian winters are nothing if not unpredictable.

Prepare to be late, and take your time

In a snowstorm, or after freezing rain, it’s going to take more time to get to where you need to be than usual. The Huffington Post writes about how streetcars will be delayed, the GO train’s tracks may ice over, and buses will be caught in traffic. Speaking of traffic, if you’re driving, take it slow. Even if you have winter tires, you don’t want to spin out on the icy road.

The most important lesson to learn from this is that getting anywhere will take time. It’s not an exaggeration to say that when the snow and ice gets heavy, you should look at doubling your commute time if you don’t want to be late. Fortunately, Centennial College professors are typically understanding when it comes to winter storms, so they won’t be too upset if half a metre of snow makes you 20 minutes late for class. Don’t make a habit of it, though.

Take some Vitamin D to beat the winter blues

Winter Depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder is a common problem in North America. When the sun is always covered by clouds, when it gets dark early, and when snow and ice are a fact of life, it’s possible to suffer from a lack of energy, fatigue, and moodiness. This can be a problem for a student in the middle of completing a challenging education.

The biggest reason for this is simply the lack of sunlight providing us with Vitamin D. There’s a few ways to fight this, including taking vitamin D supplements. Some other recommendations are to ensure that you stay active, eat right (otherwise you’ll feel even more sluggish), and make time for friends. These are good bits of life advice any time of the year, but especially so during winter.

Most importantly, though, remember that it ends. Canada has a harsh winter, but it doesn’t last forever, and can pave the way for a nice, warm summer. While international students will need to make sure they’re prepared, there’s more to the country than a few months of cold, challenging as they may be. 

By Anthony Geremia