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Combating the cold while studying abroad

February 4, 2019

For many International students, experiencing the severity of a Wisconsin winter may not be what they expected when they chose to study at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. The first half of the 2018-2019 school year, the winter cold appeared bearable. The high in the month of December reached 45 degrees Fahrenheit, with a low of only 19 degrees Fahrenheit.

International Students often have mixed feelings towards the cold weather. Twenty-one year old Hsin-Yu Chang, a junior who came from Taipei, Taiwan said, “Before I came here, I really wanted to experience snow, but now it’s ridiculously cold, especially the negative temperatures. Back home the average temperature for January is 50 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Due to Taiwan’s typical January climate of thick fog and heavy rain, Chang has had limited experience with cold weather. Chang commented, “Colorado was cold for me, coming here was something I didn’t expect.”

Twenty-two year old Sophie Pe is a student from Wiesbaden, Germany. Pe will spend her spring semester at UWRF. Her home country experiences snow, and the temperature doesn’t tend to go much below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Pe said, “I thought it was going to be very cold, but I certainly didn’t expect this. Snow wise I’ve seen worse, and I like that everything is white. It has barley snowed in my part of Germany this winter so it’s nice to finally get a winter feeling. I’m definitely looking forward to spring though!”

Chang said that when she arrived in Wisconsin, she was unprepared for the extreme temperatures. All she had for winter clothing was a hoodie and a light jean jacket. “I had to have my aunt send me all of my winter clothes, including long sleeve shirts and my snowboarding jacket. I had to buy a hat and big coat,” said Chang.

Though she has experienced winter before, Pe had a difficult first few days on campus. “On my first day here, I wore two coats and tights underneath my jeans and I still felt cold after a while,” Pe said.

According to the National Weather Service, this February in River Falls, students experienced the lowest temperatures Wisconsin has seen in a decade. On Tuesday, January 29, a windchill advisory began that stretched across portions of northwest and west central Wisconsin, as well as east central and southeast Minnesota.

Wind chills reached between 25 to 30 below zero and for Tuesday, January 29, and wind chills of 45 below zero to 65 below zero occurred the morning of Wednesday, January 30th through Thursday morning. Considering these dangerously cold wind chills are capable of causing frostbite on any exposed skin in as little as five minutes, Chancellor Dean Van Galen decided to cancel classes January 29 during the afternoon, all day January 30, and again for morning class on January 31.

During times of life-threatening cold, many precautions must be taken. According to an article by the Wall Street Journal, “[O]fficials warned people to limit their time outdoors. Those who need to drive should bring a winter survival kit, including blankets and flares, wear appropriate clothing and inform people of their travel plans, said weather officials.”

International students that are interested in studying abroad in Minnesota or Wisconsin should do additional research and come prepared with heavy winter jackets, hats, gloves, winter boots, and scarves.