Newcomers learn to embrace cold P.E.I. winter

International students and newcomers to P.E.I. can be in for a rude awakening when they get their first experience of winter.

'We try not to scare them with the reality, but give them the tools that they need'

UPEI international students Altaf Hossan and Arafat Hossen Akash arrived from hot and sunny Bangladesh to frigid Prince Edward Island just after Christmas. (Karen Mair )

A week ago, Altaf Hossan was home in Bangladesh, where the sun was shining and temperatures were in the mid-20s.

He arrived on P.E.I. four days ago to study engineering at UPEI — right in the middle of minus-double-digit cold snap.

"It's so cold I can't feel my legs or hair," said Hossan, wearing a scarf around his neck even while he's indoors at UPEI's International Students Centre.

"In Bangladesh, it is very hot that's why we feel very cold."

Hossan, along with fellow Bangladeshi student Arafat Hossen Akash, got a quick taste of their new reality.

"Last night, we are freezing downtown," Hossan said. "Others helped us because we don't have cell phone yet and called a taxi for us to go home." 

Fourth-year UPEI student Ama Lawson, from Nigeria, is disappointed when school is cancelled during storms. (Karen Mair )

Preparing for a big storm is something they'll learn through experience, but there is other help for newcomers who are not used to the cold weather that comes with a P.E.I. winter.

It's so cold I can't feel my legs or hair.— Altaf Hossen

As part of international student orientation, they will be taught about winter clothing, shopping for food and other necessities for living through an Island winter. 

Though friends warned Akash about the cold weather, he was still surprised.

"I'm very, very shocked. It looks very pretty but I didn't expect it so cold."

View it as an adventure

Melissa Coffin, at the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, has seen a lot of that shock. Government assisted refugees, as well as their other clients, get winter readiness sessions. They learn about dressing appropriately, driving in winter and preparing for storms, such as having flashlights to non-perishable food on hand.  

Their new Island neighbours, of course, as well as newcomers who have experienced winter are also happy to offer help.

"It's quite shocking for most of our refugee clients but most of them view it as an adventure," Coffin said. "We haven't had anyone scared off yet."

Melissa Coffin, co-ordinator of settlement services with PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, says she encourages her clients to enjoy winter.

Not even the "snowmageddon" winter of 2015, when P.E.I. received 284 cm of snow, could scare off Ama Lawson of Nigeria, a fourth-year chemistry student.

"I sent a picture to my mother and she was scared," Lawson said. "The worst was not being able to go to school for a week."

At the newcomers association, Coffin said, they like to keep things positive.

"We really encourage our clients to enjoy winter. We try not to scare them with the reality, but give them the tools that they need."