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Graduate Matters

How to embrace winter as an international student in Canada

These four tips for well-being from an international student will help keep you warm, prepared, active and productive when the thermometer dips.


Canada is well-known for its long winter months. While the winter is what makes “the Great White North” a popular and beautiful destination, graduate students in the country can face many challenges. If you are an international student who comes from a warmer climate, it may even come as a surprise.

So how do we maximize productivity and maintain our well-being in the winter? Being an international student in Canada for almost a year now has taught me to embrace the cold through these four tips:

1. Wear the right clothing

The key to facing the cold is to keep yourself warm. With ample clothing and layering, you protect yourself from the harsh cold winds. Make use of optimal gear like thermal innerwear, a winter jacket, snow pants/gaiters, beanies, mittens, insulated gloves, earmuffs and of course, a good pair of winter boots (waterproof and insulated are key components). Whether it is a brutal  -20 C or a sweet 5 C temperature, the feeling of cold may vary for every person, so it is best to try different combinations of layers to find what’s ideal for you.

If you are on a budget, it is best to take advantage of off-season sales. Spring is possibly the best time to shop for winter wear since stores slash prices off the items to make room for new inventory. Markdown sales can go until mid-fall for items launched the previous year. If you don’t mind second-hand gear, thrift stores are good options too. It is also worth checking your school or local non-profit organizations for winter clothing donation drives – these student- or university-led initiatives provide clean and gently-used winter clothes to help students deal with the expense of preparing for winter (and if you happen to have some extra winter clothes, donate them to these clothing drives too).

2. Plan ahead and stay updated

The reality of winter is that any form of transportation you usually take – driving a car, walking, cycling, or taking public transportation – will be slower. To avoid being late, always take steps to plan the day ahead and do the following:

  • Know your schedule for the day.
  • Pack your bag the night before. Do not forget to bring extra winter necessities like an extra sweater (in case it gets cold later in the day), indoor shoes (for indoor spaces that do not allow outdoor footwear inside), and a pair of extra socks in case of leaky boots.
  • Check weather apps for the temperature and snowfall warnings.

In terrible conditions, there are chances for roadblocks and campus closures. Keep yourself updated through public weather announcements and campus websites/real-time announcements.

3. Set up your workspace

Winter can prevent you from going outside more often than any other time of the year. This also means embracing the work-from-home set-up every now and then. While this may not be ideal for many (especially those who would like to take advantage of school facilities, laboratories, or equipment), this option is sometimes necessary, especially when your own safety is on the line. Thanks to technology, you can complete writing and reading tasks on your computer. If you have an in-person meeting, make use of teleconference software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Additionally, having an organized space will allow you to feel comfortable and help keep your focus. Keep your space warm, use a humidifier to prevent dry air, and make sure you have ample lighting for the season’s darker days.

Read also: How to spatially optimize your living space while at grad school

4. Keep moving

Just because the winter might keep us from going outdoors often, it doesn’t mean we have to spend the whole season curled up on the sofa. In fact, movement is more necessary to fight the “winter blues.” Studies have shown that movement gives endorphins, helps in stress management, and promotes better brain function.

Can’t hit the gym or the indoor court? Do some mobility exercises at home. Find a spot at home where you can lay down an exercise mat and plug in a guided exercise video. This mobility routine by Aaron Horschig, for instance, doesn’t require any expensive equipment and can be done in 10 minutes or less.

If you can go outside (for a run or a workout at the gym), don’t forget to start with a warm-up. Take it extra easy for the first five to 10 minutes of your session until you feel warmth in your body. If you are doing a run or brisk walk outdoors, make sure to apply the first tip and wear the right clothing for exercise.

Lastly, try outdoor recreational activities. Winter activities will not only keep you healthy physically, but mentally and socially as well. Among the fun things that the Canadian winter can offer are skiing (alpine and cross-country), ice fishing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, tobogganing, snowtubing, and skating. If you are unsure how to get yourself started, try seeking out your school’s student-led associations – you may find peer-supported groups or events that will help you experience winter activities with fellow students.

While the winter can be challenging, know that your life and studies can still thrive. As long as you’re bundled up, well prepared, productive, and active, you will be able to embrace the Canadian winter while making the best out of graduate school.

Zyrene Estallo
Zyrene Estallo is currently completing her master’s degree in education at the University of New Brunswick where her research interests focus on curriculum development and inclusive education.
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