While many Northern students are basking in an unusually warm, early winter, Ivan Alberto Palheta Santos and his friend Gustavo Humberto Souza do Amaral, entrepreneurship and management majors, are already shivering. The Brazilian exchange students began reaching for their sweaters and coats when the temperature first got below 50 degrees in October.
“In [our hometown of] Belém, we wear T-shirts and jeans all year. Wearing long sleeves would be like suicide,” Palheta Santos said. “It was horrible to us, when it was 49 degrees the first time, it was almost unbearable.”
For international exchange students from more temperate areas, the Upper Peninsula’s harsh winters present another difficulty. Belém, Brazil, for example, has an average temperature of 70 degrees all year, and the only big change in weather is more or less rain, depending on the season. Palheta Santos and Souza do Amaral looked at this difference as a new opportunity.
“The different weather could be a great experience,” Souza do Amaral said.
The International Studies office helps get international students acquainted with their new home.
“It’s mainly students who come for the winter semester who I have to tell most about the weather here. I let them know about the amount of snow,” said Angela Maki, secretary at the International Students Office.
Maki is often the first person international students contact and has worked at the office since 2001. Right now, there are 75 international students attending NMU, according to the International Students Office. Even though 23 of those students are from Canada, many others come from warmer countries, such as Brazil, Ghana or India, and they have to count on the advice given by Maki.
“We tell them to bring a heavy coat, a hat, a scarf, gloves and especially boots. You need those even for the short ways to your class,” she said.
Even students who already have experienced the winter can have some problems.
“I mostly still don’t know what to wear, I either wear too much or too little,” said George Nintai, a French and economics major in his senior year, who came to NMU from Tunis, Tunisia three years ago. While the people in Marquette shovel snow, in Tunis the coldest it gets is 40 degrees, and there is no snow at all. Nintai experienced his first snow in Marquette.
“I was kind of excited,” he said.
It often happens that students from warmer regions are teased and scared a little bit by other people when it comes to the winter in the U.P.
“When I was at the airport in Washington D.C., a police officer was checking my passport,” Nintai remembers. “He actually had been to Marquette before and asked me if I was ready for the winter, if I can cope with it and stuff like that.”
Maki tries to avoid such stories and tells the students about the great opportunities the winter in Marquette offers.
“I talk about the positive aspects, about the sledding, skiing and snowboarding. International students get a discount for ski passes at Marquette Mountain, for example,” she said. “It’s not that they come here and have to live isolated in an igloo.”
In fact, even though there are always students complaining about the winter when they come to her office, Maki has never seen someone leaving NMU just because of the weather.
However, the harsh winter can still bring some risks. Nintai said that he gets sick in the beginning of every winter.
“Usually I get a cold, sometimes it’s worse,” he said.
Dr. Thomas Schacht, director of the Ada B. Vielmetti Health Center explained that students from warmer areas are not at a higher risk of getting contagious illnesses, but it can nevertheless be difficult for them.
“There are differences in the timing of the influenza season in different parts of the world,” he said. “Influenza is an epidemic illness of fall and winter in our area, whereas it circulates throughout the year in tropical areas.”
Colds and the flu can be cured with medication and some days spent in bed, but psychological illnesses are harder to get over with.
“Winter-time doesn’t offer you a lot of activities and you can think more about home and you get homesick,” Nintai said.
However, he has his own way to cope with that: he goes home to Tunis to see his family every Christmas.
Inevitably, though, international students like Nintai find ways to cope with the cold when they’re in Marquette.
“I stayed in most of the time, even now I do that,” Nintai said laughing.