What Do International Students Think About Montreal’s Winter?

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  • Meet Juan Lucuara Photo Nanor Froudjian

Meet Juan Lucuara, born in Colombia, raised in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s capital city has four seasons, but the winter snowfall will never be more than ankle-height. Unlike Canada, the snow doesn’t paint the landscape white; it falls like dust. A regular winter day stays around 0 C, on occasion dipping to -10 C, “which at the time for me was very cold,” said Lucuara. “But now I’m here in -10 C and I’m wearing just a hoodie.”
So far, Lucuara loves the winter wonderland that is Montreal.

“The first snow of the winter, it was amazing. We all got blankets and ran outside to watch the snow. Everyone was so happy, jumping around trying to catch the snow,” he said.

“I’ll go outside with friends, and we’ll take our shirts off and start taking pictures. We’ll mess around and start throwing snowballs. Very stupid, but it’s fun,” he added.

While returning from a night of clubbing, Lucuara and his friends started throwing snowballs at each other. One of Lucuara’s snowballs went long, falling into a manhole cover and hitting the person working inside.

“At the moment I felt bad, but now I can laugh about it,” he said.

“This season is just so much happier. Super cliché stuff, but you can curl up under a blanket with someone, drink hot chocolate, watch some movies. With the snow falling, it’s beautiful,” he said.“In the cold you can always put on more layers, but in the heat there’s a certain point where you can’t take off any more layers.”

One flaw, however, is the short days. Like many of us, Lucuara thinks the lack of sun sucks. When the sun sets by 4:30 p.m., he said, it feels like 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., as though his whole day has already passed.

Regardless, he’s become resilient to the snowballs the Canadian winter has thrown at him.

Meet Claudia Juárez Achata, from Lima, Peru.

Claudia Juárez Achata. Photo Nanor Froudjian

In Lima, it never gets colder than 12 C. During what would be considered the winter season, it rains a lot, but the bouts of rain come in drizzles instead of downpours.

“Our winter is not that cold. Now that I’m here, I know what cold is,” Juárez Achata said.

“I already knew it was going to be bad because when anyone would ask me where I’m going to study, and I would tell them Montreal, they would say, ‘Are you ready for the winter there?’”

Juárez Achata figured she’d buy a winter jacket if she needed one, but her father got her one from the United States before she left for Montreal. She realized it was bold of her to assume a jacket wouldn’t be necessary. Since her arrival, she’s purchased a few other jackets on top of the one gifted by her father.

One of her fondest winter memories was when she went to the Old Port with friends. She didn’t skate because the first time she went for a spin around the rink, she fell down countless times. She was perfectly happy watching from the sidelines as her friends skated against the backdrop of the neighbourhood’s iconic ferris wheel.

While out at a Mexican restaurant during snowfall and -20 C weather, a friend of hers put his beer in the snow to quickly chill it. The concept and its effectiveness came as a surprise to her.

That night, the weather forced her to don a hat for the first time, even though she hates wearing things on her head. “If not, I was going to freeze,” she said.

Now that she’s settled into the winter, it’s beginning to lose its charm. “I’m tired of the snow now. I’m sick of it!” she said.

“One time I was walking downtown, and I couldn’t feel my face,” she said. Factoring in the wind chill was something she didn’t foresee.

The dry weather forces her to reapply moisturizer and lip balm time and time again, something she’d never needed to do in Peru.

Meet Lea Nguyen, from Hanoi, Vietnam.

Lea Nguyen. Photo Nanor Froudjian

The capital of the tropical country still sees four seasons, but the winter is more comparable to that of Peru than Canada. During their winter, the temperature can drop to around 10 C, and it gets very windy. “It’s cold for Vietnamese people, but it’s not really cold,” Nguyen explained.

Like Lucuara, the shorter winter days have proven tough for Nguyen. “I feel like the days end so fast. It’s 4 p.m., and the sun’s gone!” she said.

She’d experienced snow before during a vacation in Japan, but it was nothing compared to Canada.
Freezing rain came as a surprise.

“‘What? What?! Why is it like ice?’” she said. Building her first snowman and making her first snow angel were also standout memories from the winter so far.

During winter in Vietnam, people still go out often and get street food. While street food culture doesn’t really exist in Montreal, Nguyen finds that pubs are a good substitute.

The string lights hanging from storefronts and restaurants provide a warm atmosphere in otherwise unbearable temperatures. The Old Port is one of Nguyen’s favourite spots.

She had her first frostbite scare on a trip to Toronto over the winter break, when her hands were unbearably cold. Not knowing the signs of frostbite, she thought the intense weather was enough to make her hands fall off.

“I’ve never been that cold,” she said.

She’s come to hate getting rocks and salt in her boots from walking anywhere and her phone dying because it’s too cold.

Surprisingly, she’s yet to completely wipe out on ice. Nguyen’s advice to avoid face planting in the snow? Keep your stance wide and your knees bent. “You gotta keep that balance,” she said.

Meet Alexander Fevralev, from Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Alexander Fevralev. Photo Nanor Froudjian

“My first winter in Montreal was like heaven! Compared to Russia, Canadian winters are almost nothing,” he said.

Russian winters last from October to April, without a warm day in between to break the spell. Because of the high latitude, there is little sun and the temperature rarely gets higher than -10 C. All you’ve got is cold and darkness for six months, said Fevralev.

“Winter in Montreal is like a fake winter. Warm days, lots of sun, rain. I have always thought that it doesn’t rain in winter,” he said.

“You can be outside without a cap,” he added. “I’m ready to cry with happiness!”

The early February snowstorm might have been a rude awakening for most international students, but Fevralev was unbothered.

“[The] snowstorm was so nice, I [walked] around almost two hours because I like weather like that,” he said.

Meet Lorna Mc Cutcheon, from Cork, Ireland.

Lorna Mc Cutcheon. Photo Nanor Froudjian

Mc Cutcheon characterizes an Irish winter as damp and grey. Very rarely does the sun break through and bring a clear sky.
While the temperature doesn’t usually drop below freezing, to her an Irish 0 C feels colder than a Montreal -8 C.

“I think this is because of the wind and the rain. The cold definitely gets under your skin more,” she said.

“I was very intimidated by what I had heard and what I had read online about Canadian winters,” she said. “I was expecting to not be able to go outside at all and couldn’t understand how people could live comfortably in Montreal during the winter.”

She said she used to watch YouTube videos of snowstorms in Montreal and thought the heavy snow and -20 C weather would be the winter’s everyday conditions.

Even though she had trepidations beforehand, she’s thoroughly enjoyed the winter so far.

“We don’t get snow like this at all in Ireland, so it’s such a treat to be walking around outside, especially when it’s sunny and the sun reflects off the snow, which makes everything so bright,” she said.

Mc Cutcheon has learnt the difficulties behind exploring Montreal on a -15 C day.

“On days like this, I feel my blood vessels closing up, always in my hands and ears first, and it’s genuinely painful to be walking around, especially if it’s windy,” she said.

While she’s been in Montreal for just a couple months, she’s made her fair share of great memories. Among them was seeing Nina Kraviz at Igloofest and dancing to acid house in the snow.

“There is no better way to celebrate winter than to have an outdoor music festival in the snow. It was amazing being surrounded by the bright lights of the stage with the city skyline behind me and the snow gently falling down,” she recalled.

“I hardly noticed the cold because I was dancing so much, and all the people in the crowd were keeping me warm.”

The way Montrealers celebrate and embrace the cold surprised her. The outdoor activities and festivals are a perfect way to make the most out of the winter.

On the other hand, her first few days in Montreal before classes started were a bit lonesome. “I did feel very lonely being in a city with a climate and culture totally different to my own,” she said.

Meet Aakashdeep Shome, from Hyderabad, India.

Aakashdeep Shome. Photo Nanor Froudjian

During Hyderabad’s summer months, it can get as hot as 40 C and can dip down to a brisk 10 C in the winter.

“When I landed here it was -27 C. It was pretty cold. I didn’t bring any thermal wear with me because I didn’t expect it to be that cold. My hands were freezing,” Shome recalled.

When buying a winter coat, the consensus was split between getting something cheap and splurging for quality. In the end, he ended up getting something on the pricier side: a grey North Face jacket with a fur-lined hood, to be exact.

A favourite memory from this winter was skiing on Mont-Tremblant with friends.

“I know how to skate, so that helped me with skiing,” he said.

Coming to Montreal, Shome expected it to snow all the time, but he thought the roads would always be clear as well. Both of those turned out to be false.

A previous version of this article used the name Choudhary Akash for Aakashdeep Shome, based on his social media. The article has been updated to include his real name. The Link regrets this error.

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