How to Handle a Canadian Winter: An International Student's Guide

By Centennial College Modified on December 10, 2019

Advice on dealing with winter so you can keep focused on your classes.

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A group of international students smiles outside Centennial College on a beautiful winter day.

Winter came howling in early this year in Canada, and if you're an international student at college, it might have taken you by surprise. While it's not snowy all year, Canadian winters can be tough if you're not ready. Here's what you can do to handle winter, so you can get back to focusing on your college classes.

Keep track of the weather.

You don't want to wake up in the morning and be surprised to find the streets covered in snow and ice. Start paying attention to weather forecasts, and be ready to change your plans. If you don't already have it, get a weather app for your phone and check it every day. Clear skies? Snow? Freezing rain? Don't go to sleep without knowing tomorrow's weather, so you can get ready the night before (and set your alarm earlier). Look out for the wind chill factor, too, which makes the temperature feel colder than it really is.

Give yourself lots of time.

Dealing with a snowstorm is much harder when you have class in 15 minutes. Whether you're driving, walking, or taking transit, everything moves slower when it's snowy, so give yourself extra time to get where you're going. I give myself 50 percent extra time; so, for example, if my trip is usually 30 minutes, I add another 15 onto it. But more importantly, in Canada, college professors know that fresh snow makes everything move slower, so they'll forgive you if you're a little late for class right after a snowfall. Centennial College monitors the weather, and will close campuses if things get too bad. You can check Centennial's website or social media during a storm for closure notices.

A group of international students smiles outside Centennial College on a beautiful winter day.

Dress really warmly.

Wearing a jacket isn't enough. At the very least, you need a good, thick winter coat, gloves for your hands, a hat that covers your ears, and some proper winter boots. Basically, you want to keep as much skin covered as possible, especially if there's a wind chill outside. Also, those boots will stop you from slipping on the ground, and keep snow out of your socks. And when things get really cold, you want to layer, which means wearing more than just a t-shirt under your jacket, and putting more than one pair of socks on your feet.

It's January that you need to watch out for.

When I was a student at Centennial College, I met many international students who believed that December was the coldest Canadian month, and that things would warm up after Christmas. That's not true, and the end of January is when it's the coldest, with ice and snow usually lasting into February and March.

Take Vitamin D.

Between the cold, and the fact that it gets dark early, some people come down with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter. SAD means tiredness and moodiness, which are bad things if you're in the middle of your college education. Part of the reason it happens is that the lack of sunlight means a lack of the vitamin D that usually comes with it, so one of the easiest ways to fight SAD is to take vitamin D supplements. Outside of that, make sure you stay active, eat right, and make time for friends — all of which you should be doing anyway!

Remember that Canada has four seasons.

Canada may have snowy, cold winters, but they don't last forever, and we have hot summers to counter them. While you should make sure you're prepared, be glad that winter is only a few months out of the year.

In summary: When winter finds you, follow this advice so you can get back to your college classes.