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By Kelsi Novitsky email@example.com
International students find themselves Frozen
To those who habitually brave the cold, the only thing unusually "frozen" is the new Disney princess movie that has melted the hearts of us frigid North-dwellers. To those from climates a bit more forgiving, "Frozen" has an entirely different meaning.
This year being the coldest year for Minnesota since 1996, with wind chills reaching -50 degrees Fahrenheit in early January, even seasoned Minnesotans have been feeling an unseasonable chill. For students from Venezuela and Colombia, extreme might be a more fitting description.
International student Maria Olivares was born in Venezuela and grew up in a tropical climate with temperatures ranging from 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the hottest part of the country to 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit) in the cooler Andean Páramo region. The climate shock Olivares suffered upon experiencing Minnesota is something she feels she is still under-prepared for, almost 2 years later.
"I was certainly surprised by it the first few times. It can take you completely off-guard, especially if you haven't dealt with winter before. It truly is a kind of cold that you just can't relay by putting into words," said Olivares. "I found it particularly challenging to face this kind of weather because I didn't know how to dress for it. I feel like I still kind of don't. I just haphazardly throw warm clothes on top of what I'm wearing and hope it makes the cut."
Camila Garcia Serrano, an International student from Bogota, Colombia, has similar experiences to Olivares.
"My country is in the tropics and we do not have any seasons; the coldest it ever gets is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit," said Garcia. "So coming to Duluth was the first time I ever saw snow and experienced this extreme cold. My parents and friends back home could not believe that the freezer is warmer than outside."
For both students, adjusting to the cold has been like learning to live on another world.
"The worst part of winter is very close between the bitter cold, the amount of damage salt causes to my shoes, and how much people kind of expect me and International students like me to know how winter works despite not being raised here," said Olivares. "The last one makes me kind of sad, really. It was very frustrating during my first year to be expected to know stuff I had no idea about."
Garcia's biggest winter shock came shortly after her morning shower.
"The first time I saw the thermometer dropping to -50 Fahrenheit, I could not believe it was even possible; I thought that could only happen in the North Pole," said Garcia. "My worst experience with the weather was going out with my hair wet. I did not know it was possible to actually have frozen hair."
Garcia now makes sure to allow her hair time to dry before leaving her apartment to avoid sporting icicles as a hair accessory.
As Old Man Winter continues his yearly tantrum, the International students have learned new ways to shield themselves from his wrath.
"Since I work early mornings, when the weather and wind chill are often times most brutal, I make sure to wrap up in as many layers of clothes as I can hang on a chair in the living room while making no noise," said Olivares. "I also constantly ask my roommates how cold it is outside every time I see them so that I can have a general idea of how many layers I have to wear when I go out- if I go out."
Despite the necessity of extra clothes, Olivares has learned to appreciate the winter.
"All insects and critters are gone, and the cold kills any allergens in the environment that affect me," she said. "At home, I was a very allergic person. I would sneeze in the presence of dust or strong smells. In the winter, even though my skin freezes over, I don't go around having allergies."
Yet some days, Olivares' "silver-lining" mentality is short-lived.
"The worst weather experience I've had was earlier this year, when there was a snowstorm that was too quick to shovel out," she said. "My roommates and I got snowed in, but since the college was closed, I had to get to the Somers building to cover someone's shift at work. So my friends and I pushed the door open a little together, and then proceeded to dig snow out of the way with bowls until I was able to squeeze out and go to work. It was exciting, but also very cold and stressful, especially since I had to go back and forth several times that day."
For Garcia, the snowy set-backs haven't been able to ruin her sense that she's living in a winter wonderland.
"Even though it has been hard to adapt to this new climate and way of life, I think it has been very fun to actually do what I watched in American movies when I was younger. Coming here was the first time I could do snowmen, sledding, skiing, and tubing."