Surviving a Washington Winter: Advice from Our Students

By Cathy Sunshine

When the polar vortex swept into DC in January, a number of my students were shocked and awed. Several have recently arrived from warm countries and are experiencing a US winter for the first time. Suffice it to say they’re not happy. “It is my first time in DC during winter,” one student wrote. “I am from a warm part of Spain, so this situation of extreme cold is unusual for me. I do not know how to handle it. I realize cold is not for me.” “There is no way I can stay warm,” groaned a student from Sudan.

Our students didn't sign up for this...

Our students didn’t sign up for this…

Others are more upbeat. Veterans of several winters here take the weather in stride, while students who hail from cold countries seem downright gleeful. “I do like winter,” wrote a student from Kazakhstan. “I with impatience wait for the first snow every winter. When everything covers with snow and everywhere is white, it is amazing! Moreover, I don’t know how to tell you how it is an awesome feeling for a walk on the snow and under the snowflakes. It is just perfect!”

Since the cold has been on our students’ minds, my team has been encouraging our students to talk and write about it. We asked three questions: Is this your first winter in Washington? Do you like winter — why or why not? What advice would you give to someone who is experiencing winter for the first time? The responses below (just as the students wrote them) come from my Advanced Plus class and from several 3B and 4B classes. Thanks to Leah and Heidi and to the other teachers who surveyed their students. Following the students’ comments are a few tips for buying warm winter clothing in DC.

Hardy DC pedestrians brave the cold. Winter 2014 so far has been the coldest and snowiest in three years.

DC pedestrians bundle up against the cold. Washington hasn’t had so much cold and snow since the blizzards of 2010.

Is this your first winter in DC?

In my case it’s my first winter in DC. I hate the winter because anything becomes dangerous!! All my friends had warned me that the winter in DC is hard, the worst for me is that practically you can’t do anything and it’s boring!! I had to buy a lot of clothes because I arrived in august and I didn’t expect this cold.

It’s my first winter. The first couple hours snowing were exciting but after I observed, played and enjoyed the snow I really hated it. I can not go outside wearing confortable clothes. Landscapes are really nice till a car drives over the snow and the snow becomes black. In addition, this cold interrupts my routine, because it is hard to go from one place to another. It is clear I do not like winter.

No, it isn’t my first winter in DC. It’s the third winter here. The last two winters were less harsh than this one. I realize that when snows in DC, the city stops. It’s not prepared for this winter event, like the north cities like New York, Chicago.

No, it’s not my first winter. I have enjoyed this season for six years in DC. This is a perfect city to sightsee, wander or take photographs. In DC there isn’t too much snow like in other cities, like Boston, Chicago or NYC.

This is my first winter in Washington, DC. I am from Kazakhstan. There is much colder than here. Therefore, the cold weather and wearing heavy clothes are not new thing for me.

Do you like winter? Why or why not?

I like the snow, it reminds me of my home country in winter.

No I do not like winter because I was born and raised in a warm country where we don’t wear coats or boots, gloves, winter hats etc.

I do like winter. I enjoy gong for a walk when it snows. Also, I love to build a snowman with my friends, and go skiing.

No, I don’t. I only find negative points from the winter. The winter doesn’t permit me practice street-sports. It’s hard even to take a walk. In addition, I need to wear a lot of layers of clothes.

Yes I do. I like to enjoy the season by going skiing, riding a bike on the trails, taking pictures. The city and trails are beautiful covered with snow, its like another place.

I don’t enjoy winter; I accept it because there is not choice. You have to survive. I prepare buying winter clothes to keep warm.

Yes, I do. I like winter, because it is a white season. I mean there is fresh air and I might do skiing and skating. In winter there is a beautifill view.

I don’t like it because is so cool and my fingers get frozen.

As I said the cold weather is not new thing for me. So I wear very warm clothes and eat well-calory food. Also, I do always exercise to stay warm during the winter.

I think that for foreign people the winter as a white landscape looks beautiful as a new experience; but it isn’t a good idea when you feel under skin the deep cold every day.

Winter in Washington can be beautiful. Photo: Joshua Lanier/DC Spotlight Newspaper.

Strolling along the National Mall on January 21, 2014. Photo: Joshua Lanier/DC Spotlight Newspaper.

What advice would you give someone who is experiencing winter for the first time?

If sumbody suffers of winter cold, he must buy a warm clothing. There is no bad weather, there are bad clothing.

Wear warm clothes — gloves, hat, scarf, shoes (boots) — so you don’t get sick. Go snowboarding. Make a snowman — take pictures. Go ice skating.

I would advice first time experience to dress warm if they can because if they don’t have this kind of winter in their country they can get sick or cause frostbite.

Somebody told me put hat, big sweater, jacket, boot and scarf.

You should wear down coat, and wool coat, eat hot chilly, and use 4 blankets.

My main advice is to stay at home as much as possible. You should go to the street only if it is necessary. Secondly, I suggest wearing warm clothes such as gloves, scarf, down coat. Finally, I recommend to buy a powerful heater to mantenance your house in an optimate temperature.

Cook vegetables soup with hot spices.

I suggest drink hot beverages and keep warm your throat and feet.

I think you need to stay home and eat six meal a day. 20 cops of tea 10 cops of coffee, wear all your clothes.

It’s my advice. 1. Be careful, take care of yourself be good. 2. Prepare the essential clothing like: fur coat, wool sweater, scarf, gloves, winter hat, down vest, winter boots. 3. Prepare special equipment: skis, sleds, skates. 4. Prepare your car, you should change anti-freez and tires.

My suggestion for who is experiencing winter for the first time is: first, buy some special base-layer, this is like a shirt, light, soft with long sleeves made with a special fabric that allow you to be warm without a bunch of layers. It’s expensive but worth it. You can buy in the sports shops. Second, cover your head and ears with a good hat no matter how ridiculous you look :)

To stay warm in winter the recommendation is have adequate winter cloth with wool and another synthetic material; eat food with high calories, proteins, vegetables; have a good heating at home and do exercises. Historical winters show us that the winter in DC havent been so hard. Life continues, enjoy the winter season, going out to visit museums, visit the zoo, going to the art and musical activities. Washington is an alive city in the day and at nights.

Who is experiencing winter for the first time, I would say them: “Just enjoy with this winter!” Keep warm and go for a walk, go to ski! When the snow melts or you have to go back to your tropical country, then you will miss it. Enjoy with the snow and have fun!!!

A warm winter jacket is "puffy."

A warm winter jacket is “puffy.”

Where to Buy Warm Winter Clothing in DC

My class talked about how to dress warmly, and the different materials that clothes can be made from. Down jackets and wool sweaters rate highest for warmth. Jackets with synthetic filling such as polyester can work if they are thick enough. Puffy is good. If you look like the Michelin tire man, chances are the jacket is warm. Cotton is not warm at all, so sweatshirts and hoodies are pretty much useless in winter.

Where to find winter gear? If you want to spend big bucks, no problem. Sporting goods stores (REI, Bean’s, Patagonia, Hudson Trail Outfitters, Eddie Bauer, City Sports, etc.) will be happy to sell you a new down parka for $150 to $250.

Those who don’t want to spend that kind of money will need to get creative. I’m a big fan of secondhand, thrift, and consignment stores. You have to spend time hunting, but you can often find bargains — high-quality, brand-name used clothes, cheap. Some of our students already know about these stores, but others might appreciate the tip.

One of my favorites is Unique Thrift in Silver Spring. It’s actually two enormous, warehouse-like thrift stores side by side, with a vast inventory and good prices. In the District, there’s Frugalista in Mt. Pleasant, which has a nice selection of new but “remaindered” brand-name clothes, as well as some used. I also like Martha’s Table, which runs a small thrift shop on 14th St. NW. The selection is limited, but the people are friendly, prices are rock-bottom, and the clothing sales support a good cause. You can also try Amvets on Georgia Ave. NW; Goodwill on South Dakota Ave. NE and in the suburbs; and the Savers chain, also with many stores in the suburbs.

Martha's Table thrift shop at 14th and V Streets NW.

Explore thrift shops to find bargains in winter clothing. This is Martha’s Outfitters at 14th and V Streets NW.

This entry was posted in Community Resources, Daily Life Language Activities, Student Voices, Writing Activities. Bookmark the permalink.

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