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Surviving and flourishing in winter in the US: some tips for visiting researchers and students.

I have taught English to many people who were preparing to visit or move to the US or Europe to study in a university or work as researcher or in other professions. In addition to learning enough English to survive or thrive in an academic or professional environment, I found that it is also helpful to give them practical tips related to food, commuting, banking, healthcare, shopping, entertainment, work, culture and other everyday practices they may experience abroad. I wrote extensively on some of the things you will need to do when you first move to the US. You can find this post and various suggestions below:

Today, I want to just write some practical tips for people coming from tropical or temperate climates who may be moving to places in the US or the EU with a colder climate. While you may hear horror stories about how brutally cold the climate can be in some countries, I want to assuage your fears about this. First, you should know that the human body has an excellent capacity to adapt to cold climate. It takes a few weeks for certain physiological changes to occur, but once this happens, you will be able to experience colder weather and not shiver or feel so uncomfortable. Here is a link to a brief summary of the changes:

The bottom line is that you should not worry about how you will deal with the cold: your body will meet the challenge, and you will adjust in just a few weeks. Lower temperatures that seem very cold and uncomfortable in the first weeks of winter (November) will surprisingly feel warm and very comfortable after you adjust. The second point about cold climates is that the homes and buildings will have a central heating system that runs around the clock and helps people feel comfortable indoors while the temperatures outdoors may be extremely cold. Most heating systems will run at around 21C throughout the day, and in the night time, they may be turned down to a slightly cooler temperature for sleeping.

Finally, there are a variety of clothes that you can buy that will also help you adjust and feel comfortable in the cold. There are several clothing items I would recommend:

Buy a heavy down-insulated jacket. There are many types of down jackets, and I can’t recommend any particular type, but I just want to point out that down feathers are the best insulating clothing material. Here is a link to one on Amazon: 

Buy waterproof winter shoes or boots. You have many options. Read the reviews on and other sites. Here is an example of a pair of snow shoes that will help you deal with snow, ice, and slush:

Buy a wool base layer. Like down, wool is also a very good natural insulator. Here is an example of a top base layer:

Here is an example of a bottom base layer:

Buy a windproof wool hat. There are many wool winter hats, but I highly recommend a windproof winter hat. When the temperature is well below freezing, the effects of the cold are multiplied by strong winds. Wind proof hats will keep you warm in such weather. Here is an example of one:

Buy a good pair of gloves. Ski gloves are some of the best-insulated winter gloves, but if they seem too heavy and bulky, you can try a less insulated glove. Here is an example of a winter glove:

Buy a good pair of wool socks. You can use ordinary cotton socks when the weather is not so cold, but for extremely cold days, a pair of wool socks will keep your feet from going numb:

Many times when the weather is severely cold you should be at home or indoors in a warm building, yet sometimes, you may have to be out for a long period of time, maybe, for example, if you car breaks down, or you need to walk far in the cold. Some people who enjoy outdoor hiking, skiing or other sports need to wear clothes suited for this kind of extreme weather. Certain clothes can really be useful for this kind of situation, including a backlava:

Another item you may want to have in your car for emergency cold weather is a chemical hand or foot warmer:

If gloves and hats seem trivial compared to a good jacket, remember that it is typically your extremities (hands, feet, face, ears, nose) that feel the extreme cold first. These are the areas vulnerable to frostbite and hypothermia when left exposed to severe cold temperatures. So you really need to keep them as warm as possible. Finally, while winter in the US can be fairly mild on most days, on some days, particularly during storms, the weather can be so severe that it’s actually dangerous to be out during this time. If you didn’t have the habit of checking the weather daily in your country where the weather is pleasant most days, you should get in the habit of checking the weather places where it could be dangerous to travel during bad weather. Here is a link to a popular weather forecast channel in the US. You can adjust choose Fahrenheit or Celsius readings:

The bottom line is that while there are many clothes you can buy to make your life easier in winter, there is some weather that is so cold and dangerous that you should just stay home during this time. During a winter storm, the best strategy is to buy enough food to allow you to stay at home until the storm passes.

Adjusting to winter can be challenging for other reasons. In addition to colder temperatures in winter, there is also less daylight as the days are shorter. This can have some real physiological effects for some people making the more sluggish or even depressed. To adjust to this, it helps to get out in the daytime as much as possible when there is daylight. You might also consider getting an artificial light that stimulates sunlight:

You may also try taking vitamin D supplement as the lack of sunlight reduces your body’s ability to generate vitamin D, which can lead to feeling less energetic or even depressed. Another part of the adaptation process is to learn to do the things that native people do in colder countries to keep their spirits and energy up: find an outdoor winter sport or activity like snowshoeing, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, ice skating, ice hockey, snowmobiling, sledging. Get a membership at an indoor gym or recreation center. Most towns and cities have recreation centers with indoor gyms and other activities including swimming, volley ball, soccer, ping pong, etc. In addition, there are many social groups that you can join in winter to stay active and have fun with others. Again these may be different than the typical options in your country, so while they may seem different or even strange at first, if you keep an open mind, you may find them quite fun. I met my wife in something we call a contra dance in the US.  Although it was not like dances she would find in Brazil, she tried it and really loved it. You have other options like book clubs, clubs in which people meet to play board game and card games, groups that get together to go hiking, singing groups, meditation and yoga groups, writing groups, political groups, knitting groups, biking groups, drama clubs, and countless other groups. Usually, you can find a local paper that lists events, activities and clubs like this.

Another popular past time in winter is to find a nice community center or coffee shop where people gather in very cold days. People often hangout for hours either reading, working on a computer, chatting with friends, playing chess. While the cold weather of winter may be uncomfortable, there are also many activities that are unique to winter that many cultures have learned to enjoy in this time of year. While nature is quite beautiful in summer when plants, flowers, grass and trees are blooming, a snowy winter landscape also has a special beauty that you can learn to enjoy. Some winter storms cover everything in ice and snow, including buildings, branches of trees. It’s particularly beautiful sight to see silvery sparkling icicles or snow that covers the land in a shimmering white blanket. Children enjoy having a snowball fight with friends, or catching falling snowflakes on their tongue, or making “snow angels”, building an igloo or fort, sledging in a park, making a snowman, or just sliding on ice. You might be surprised how these simple activities make winter fun.

One of my favorite winter past times was visiting a good bookstore or coffee shop, curling up with a book for hours, and enjoying an occasional steamy cup of hot chocolate. There are lots of foods that are particularly suited for winter including warm pumpkin pie (or any warm pie), a hearty warm stew, hot apple cider, a Thanksgiving feast, and various hot cereals and porridges like oatmeal and bread pudding. While you may not be able to get the foods you are used to from home, keep an open mind and you may be surprised by some to the treats you will find in the food of other countries.

Relaxing in a rocking chair in front of a fireplace or woodstove or visiting a hot springs are other simple pleasure of winter that can’t be enjoyed in summer. The important point is to keep an open mind to trying new practices and activities, be flexible and adapt to new customs. I believe this will help you survive and flourish in your winter abroad.