Meg: How to Survive a Canadian Winter

It might still be fall but we’ve had more snowy days already than I’ve experienced in my life before Canada! So here’s what I’ve learnt about preparing for, surviving and making the most of Canadian winter.

A winter’s afternoon inToronto – as we get closer to the shortest day the sun sets before 5pm!

Quick disclaimer, all of my information comes from southern Ontario, so while it’s colder here than Vancouver, if you’re headed to Edmonton all I can say is good luck! Try asking locals for help and international students too as they often have a more accurate gauge of how cold winter really gets. Learn from their mistakes!

McMaster as the snow begins.

Shopping Tips

Make sure to budget for winter clothes as while a raincoat and hoody will get you through any Auckland winter they won’t do much during entire months of subzero weather. If, like me, you would rather spend money on travel, then try borrowing from Canadian friends or buying secondhand online.

My Canadian housemates were winter shopping godsends!

What You’ll Need

Winter Coat (winter semester)

  • You’ll be wearing this almost every day for months so it needs to be thick enough to keep you warm and water resistant to keep the snow from soaking you.
  • A larger size is good so you can add layers underneath, it’ll keep you warmer if it reaches down to the tops of your thighs and a fur trimmed hood is great for keeping your face from freezing in gusts of snow.

Snow Boots (winter semester)

  • These look ridiculous but they’re very important for when you’re wading through heavy snow mid-winter.
  • They should be waterproof, have a good temperature rating (check what’s needed near you), good tread for grip on ice, be a size too big for thicker socks and lightweight to make wading through snow easier.
My borrowed winter coat and new snow boots!

Beanie, mittens or gloves and a scarf (both semesters)

  • Unlike in Auckland these will get a lot of use.
  • Waterproof Ankle Boots (both semesters)
  • Very useful for days when it’s raining, lightly snowing or icy to keep your feet dry and warm and help you grip on ice.
  • Most types of waterproof boots are suitable, they have great options here but many people use Doc Martins or Timberlands from home (though they’re not much help on ice).

Fall Coat (fall semester)

  • Less heavily lined than a winter coat but useful for light snow and cold fall days.
  • I’m still using mine in late December as most days are still warmer than -10.
My everyday fall coat, waterproof boots and the little winter essentials I own but never need to use back home.

Beat the Winter Blues!

With short days and cold weather it’s easy to feel trapped inside so to survive winter you need to make the most of it! Ice skating, skiing, snow shoeing and more are all at you fingertips in Canada so it’s easy to get out of the house with friends. Most importantly, make lots of visits to Tim Hortons to keep warm the Canadian way!

If you have any questions for me about Canada, McMaster, winter survival or even what to order at Timmies then feel free to talk to the 360 office about how to contact me!

If you don’t know what Tim Hortons is before you leave don’t worry, it’s impossible to be in Canada and not find out quickly!

Meg: Accommodation at McMaster

My house is currently covered in the first snow of the year which I’m absolutely in love with! It’s also what I want to talk to you about today. One of my biggest worries before I left for my exchange was my accommodation so I want to help you figure out what would work best for you.

 

First Arrival

Lots of exchange students have different plans when they first arrive, but a buffer of time before classes start is useful to give you a chance to adjust. Most flats or residences only let you move in late August or early September so Airbnb is a great option before then (it does pay to ask if you can move in early though). 

If you’re in on-campus accommodation you’ll want to be there at least a week before classes start for Welcome Week. For off-campus, I’d recommend the same as MIX club runs an amazing week of events that are great to get to know other exchange students keen for adventure.

 

On-Campus Accommodation 

At McMaster accommodation works a little differently than at UoA. The first thing to know is that while you can apply for an on-campus residence, very few exchange students live on campus – it’s usually only for first years. While exchange students can apply in upper years, you should consider if it would suit you to stay with younger students.

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Hedden Hall

A meal plan is compulsory in residence, it works like a prepaid card for restaurants on campus. This can be hard to go back to if you’ve spent time cooking for yourself or it might be one less thing to worry about. 

If you decide to try applying make sure to keep on top of application dates and look at other options too. It’s all based on a lottery system so even as an exchange student you won’t be given preference.

Off-Campus Accommodation

After first year, most students choose to live in student houses nearby. My house is a ten minute walk from the edge of campus but the buses are free to students so you can look further away if you’d like. The most popular student areas are Westdale and Ainslie but lots of students commute.

 

For off-campus accommodation, it pays to start looking early. I found my house in May for a September move-in date and as I wanted to sublet for both semesters I got very lucky with proximity and price. If you’re only on a one semester exchange it can be even more of a challenge so you’ll need to get looking early and keep your options open. 

 

 

It is possible to find a place once you’ve arrived, you wouldn’t be alone, but competition is steep at that time of the year. It’s best to get onto it early and let yourself enjoy getting settled in. 

Overall, no matter where you end up staying you’re going to have an amazing time. Don’t let worries about where to stay overwhelm you. As long as you make the most of it, it will be the right choice for you.

Meg

 

PS: Here are some bonus pictures of the fall because even though winter’s on its way, I’m still not over the beautiful leaves!

 

Meg: First Impressions of McMaster University

Adjusting to a New Adventure

I’ve been in Canada for almost 6 weeks now and it’s already become my new second home. The McMaster University campus might feel like a movie set sometimes (maybe because it is), but the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had so far are as real as it gets.

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My first time on campus!

My time here has been hectic in all the best ways. It started out with an outdoor orientation experience which let me make heaps of new friends by stranding us in tents and canoes in the Canadian wilderness for a few days. The MOOSE eXchange programme has been a highlight of the trip so far! Once semester starts, MIX Club is the place to be for exchange students with an action-packed week of events from arcade night to hiking. Joining some of McMaster’s 350 clubs has also been a great way to get involved with Outdoor Club a must-try. Planning weekend trips with your new friends is also a great time, especially before winter hits. You don’t need to worry about a shortage of things to do!

 

 The first few weeks are amazing and intense but make sure to take care of yourself. With the excitement of a new adventure, the adrenaline from so many new situations and the extreme highs and lows of getting settled in, it’s even more important to take some time to breathe. Whether it’s by writing a journal, hitting the gym or sitting under a tree on campus to read, anything you find relaxing can help stop you from burning out. This way you can carry on making the most of every moment!

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In my first week, I spent hours each evening exploring Hendrie Valley

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Leave from Cherry Hill Gate and you’ll see heaps of these adorable little buddies

The best part of exchange is that everyone’s in the same boat when it comes to nerves, excitement and wanderlust. There’s no doubt that change is hard but you’re not alone in this experience. By getting to know people it all seems far less daunting and luckily your chance to make friends doesn’t end after week one. Take every chance you can to introduce yourself to someone new, you already have the perfect topic to talk about – Canadians love a Kiwi accent.

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I made some great friends when I lost my main group on an exchange trip to Niagara Falls

My new normal here in Canada is something I’m working hard not to take for granted. Enjoying every moment, making the most of every opportunity and looking at the world from a new perspective gets easier every time I try. I can’t wait to keep you posted on more of my adventures and introduce you to my new home!

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Meg