3 Ways International Students Can Stay Cozy in U.S. Winters

Ask about and acquire clothing appropriate for your U.S. college’s location ahead of winter’s arrival.

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Cold-weather activities like baking cookies with friends, skiing or reading a good book can help make U.S. winters more enjoyable.

The holiday season in the U.S. goes hand in hand with winter. For international students who are moving to certain parts of the U.S. from warmer countries, U.S. winters can seem long and overwhelming.

Coming to the U.S. as an international student usually means staying in one place for anywhere from a few months to several years. It's a good idea to look into the weather of the region before accepting a college's admissions offer – especially as the U.S. climate can range from tropical to alpine.

The following are a few ways international students can prepare for the cold season.

1. Buy appropriate clothes: Depending on where in the U.S. you will attend college, winter may be very mild – as in Southern California, for example – or bitterly cold and several months long, as in New England.

One way to prepare for the winter season is to have the right gear. If you are coming from a warmer climate like I did, you may not have the right kind of clothes.

When I first arrived in the U.S. to attend graduate school in New England, I brought a very trendy leather jacket and thermal inner garments. The thermals kept me very warm when I was outside, but once I went indoors into heated buildings, I started sweating. And the jacket was fine until about mid-December, when it became clear that a leather jacket was no match for a New England winter.

[See schools that offer warm weather year-round.]

Thankfully, my lab supervisor noticed, shook her head and took me shopping. She helped me find two winter coats – a light jacket for early winter and a heavier coat for the deep winter, fleece-lined gloves, a thick scarf, a nerdy wool hat and winter boots.

It wasn't until I had the proper winter clothes that I realized how uncomfortable I had been previously. I ended up donating the thermal inner layers to a clothing drive.

If you live someplace with milder winters, you will likely need less winter gear, but having the right kind of clothing is key to staying warm and happy during U.S. winters.

[Learn what to ask a U.S. college admissions representative.]

2. Adopt winter traditions: International students will find winters more enjoyable if they associate it with happy things. There are many winter traditions that international students can adopt that make winter something to look forward to.

I have a friend from India who bakes a large batch of a different type of cookie every week during winter and invites friends to her dorm room for late-night cookies and hot chocolate parties. Many of my international student friends have embraced skiing or snowboarding and look forward to the few weekends in the winter when they can go hit the slopes. Still others cook warm soups and comforting casseroles.

Even if you do not bake, cook or ski, you can still indulge in the winter. Get yourself some warm, fuzzy socks and bundle up at home with a hot drink and a good book. Remember that book lying in your bookcase that you've been meaning to read? Well, winter is the perfect time to start reading it.

[Check out great cold-weather colleges.]

3. Make plans for the weather: While it is true that your education is your primary goal, a pleasant experience all around will enrich your U.S. experience and help your well-being in intangible ways. Prospective international students can check online weather resources like weather.gov to help plan.

The admissions representatives from the schools you are applying to will also be able to provide you climate-related information if you ask them.

Depending on where in the U.S. you are, winter may mean spending less time outside because of the cold. International students can find themselves bored and lonely indoors. International students can avoid these negative feelings by making concrete plans with their friends to do activities together.

Winter is a great time to catch up with old friends over a cup of hot coffee, watch a play or visit a museum. Since I try to spend as much of my free time during summer outside, I often do not make it to any museums until the winter, when I welcome the chance to be indoors.

Winter can sometimes seem long and drab. But international students can enjoy winter as much as summer by knowing what to expect in the season and preparing well. Enjoyment simply becomes a matter of finding the right entertainment, embracing U.S. winter traditions or creating your own.

Swati B. Carr, from India, is currently pursuing her doctorate in synthetic biology at Boston University and advises prospective international students. She first came to the U.S. as an international student for her master's in microbial genetics from the University of Rhode Island.