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With winter fast approaching, international students are in for a chilly reality. Photo: Renaud via Flicker.

International Office gives crash course in Canadian winter and culture

International students face a host of challenges adapting to a new culture and a new country—and often with minimal first-hand experience to work with. However, through a series of workshops and lecture series, the International Office hopes to better prepare new students for their stay in Canada.

On Oct. 31, the International Office hosted a session that looked at getting students ready for the oncoming Ottawa winter, specifically the more mundane parts of winter life that are often left unexplained to international residents.

Topics ranged from the technicalities of choosing a proper coat, to the humorous breakdown of fashion—as Canada’s workforce becomes more concerned with keeping warm than staying professional.

Saidouba Camara, the program coordinator for International Student Support Services, explained that information that often seems obvious is essential to properly preparing and integrating international students.

“Throughout the year we organize a lot of events to help different parts of the international experience, and this workshop series is here to manage their expectations and give them some tips to make the most of their winter,” he explained.

“It is important for them to be prepared and know what to expect because a lot of people come here with a wrong idea of what winter really is.”

The presentation was interspersed with comedy videos and personal observations in an attempt to keep students comfortable, and lift some of the anxiety of going into their first genuine winter.

Despite a casual atmosphere, the advice was real. Students were reminded to keep tabs on their own mental health and know the signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Regular outdoor exercise, Vitamin D supplements, and regular socialisation can all help alleviate the depression often experienced during winter.

Organizers also dispelled the pervasive myth that alcohol will stave off hypothermia. Students die from hypothermia every year after consuming alcohol, with many assuming that a few extra shots before a Friday night is a replacement for proper outerwear.

According to Ajit Maheswari, an international student in software engineering, Canadians often misinterpret the needs of incoming international students.

“I think a lot of Canadians get very fixated on languages and culture with (international students). I can speak English, we can all speak English, we don’t need everyone to speak to us like toddlers,” he explained.

“It’s the stuff (Canadians) think is normal that is hard for us,” he continued. “You can get resources for the big things, but no one is around to tell us how the recycling system works, or what long johns are … I think that is where the school has been a big help.”

Camara encourages students to use all the resources available to them at the International Office, including peer mentorship programs, academic support, and more events the workshop series.

For more information about this seminar, and all other services that the International Office provides, check out their website.