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Your First Canadian Winter: 6 Survival Tips for International Students

By Ailsa Ross

Published January 6, 2022 • 5 Min Read

As an international student, when you told friends and family you were moving to Canada to study, did they ask, “How will you cope with the cold winters?”

Moving to a country where February temperatures can fall to minus 30 C can be intimidating. Your first Canadian winter — especially if you’re an international student from a warmer country — will mean adapting quickly. But with the right winter clothing and a positive mindset, it really is possible for you to enjoy Canada’s winters. Here’s how.

1. Make a warm, relaxing space for yourself

You may not have a cozy wood-burning stove in your student accommodation. Still, there are lots of easy ways to create a relaxing indoor space on a budget.

If the bulbs around your accommodation are cold bright white lights, you can replace those with ones that give off a sunnier light. Grab some stylish lighting, such as LED candles, to give your room an inviting glow. Place a few inexpensive houseplants in the apartment’s sunny spots. Find a nice blanket for wrapping yourself up in and make a snug reading nook for yourself.

By making a space for yourself, you may feel more relaxed and more invested in where you’re living.

2. Seek out the warmest clothing you can find

Even if you’re on a tight student budget, warm clothing can help you cope with Canadian winters. You don’t need to drop $800 on a designer down jacket to stay warm though.

Thrift stores, Facebook groups, and discount outdoor gear stores are all good places to find bargain investment clothing to last you years.

The first things you should buy are a sturdy pair of boots with soles that have a good grip and a warm jacket. If you’re wearing a thick sweater, you’ll need a big coat — or shell layer — to go over it. When purchasing your new winter jacket, consider one that’s a size or two up from what you’d normally wear.

Unless you’re in a city with more moderate temperatures, like Victoria or Vancouver, you may want a few more winter items:

  • A fleece neck warmer to pull up and over your cheeks on the coldest days

  • A thick pair of gloves

  • Ice cleats to pull over your boots on slippery days

  • A warm hat — or toque — that can be pulled over your ears and forehead; or a woolen headband if you have thick hair

  • Thermal leggings or a long-sleeved, thermal top

  • Wool insoles for your boots

3. Share your first winter with loved ones back home

Why not embrace this season by sharing it? Imagine the faces of friends and family who have never experienced snow or the Northern Lights. You could even video the fun times: building your first snowman, taking part in a campus snowball fight, or walking on a frozen river.

Try out snowflake photography. Catch snowflakes on a dark mitten or sweater, or even a school backpack works. The fibres will help prevent them from melting immediately.

Your friends and family will love sharing those exciting firsts from your life abroad.

4. Move around

Don’t worry, your lungs won’t freeze if you exercise when it’s cold outside. Go running if that’s something you enjoy doing in the summer months. Even just walking winter trails, looking for animal tracks in the snow, can be good exercise. Rent a pair of skates and try whizzing around on the ice at the nearest pond. Your first time ice skating may feel weird and awkward, but then amazingly fun.

And when you really don’t want to go out? There are always YouTube exercise videos or these wellness tips from RBC Olympians.

5. Consider your vitamin D levels

Getting enough vitamin D — which the body produces when the skin is exposed to sunlight — may not be an issue back home. But during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, UV levels may be very low. This may make it difficult to get enough of it naturally. Health Canada recommends looking for foods rich in vitamin D, which is important for bone and muscle health. You may also want to consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement during winter.

Take advantage of daylight hours if you can. Especially, try to get outside in the mornings. Why? A 2017 study published in the journal Sleep Health showed that getting sun exposure early in the day may help to get a good night’s sleep.

6. Accept that every day won’t be easy in a new place

For international students, it’s normal to miss home, to miss warm weather, or the ease of summer. If you’re finding homesickness and other stresses are really getting you down, though, you don’t have to bottle up your feelings.

Much about life in Canada is different for international students and newcomers while trying to study, work, or settle in, but getting used to the cold weather can help make your new life that much more “Canadian.”

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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