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International Programs Assistant Director Shares Advice for Winter Study Abroad

Publication Date: 12/19/2012

Harbin Ice Festival

For some students, travel for the winter break means a car ride or flight home. But for others, it means preparing for the next semester abroad. Students who plan to travel to the Southern Hemisphere can enjoy warm temperatures similar to summer months in Memphis. However, Erin Hillis, assistant director of international programs, says there are advantages to studying in colder climates that some students normally would not consider.

“One of the perks is the different winter celebrations and festivals that students can attend,” says Hillis. “For example, in Harbin, China, they celebrate with amazing ice carvings and sculptures at the annual Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. In the more northern regions, they have street parades and all kinds of decorations to help the gloomier months go by. So going somewhere during the winter may be a great way to experience how other cultures celebrate the cold, dark months.”

Katie Klein ’13, who is used to temperatures of her home state of Mississippi, studied in Harbin during fall 2011.

“Harbin is known as the ‘Ice City,’ and for good reason,” says Klein. “During the winter months, most of the residents try to stay indoors as much as possible, but the only exception is for the Ice Festival. I ventured down to the river one day to see them prepare for it…they do this by actually cutting huge blocks out of the river. The blocks weigh several tons and are completely frozen solid by mid-November.”

Klein says the cold weather took some getting used to. “I made the mistake of washing my hair about an hour before my class one day, and even though my head was covered in a parka hood and hat, during the three minutes it took me to walk to my class, my hair still managed to freeze to the point where I was able to break off a small portion of it. Needless to say, I began washing my hair at night.”

Rhodes students have also studied abroad in recent years in Aberdeen, Scotland, where the college has an exchange program. Others have studied in Geneva, Switzerland, and in Moscow and eastern Russia, all of which experience low temperatures during the winter months.

Hillis suggests students pack layers especially if they will be experiencing more than one season while abroad. For students headed to destinations where the temperatures stay below freezing, Hillis says an option is to buy heavy winter clothes once they get there. “If you don’t want to lug around a parka when you travel, it might be smart to buy one there and leave it behind when you return.”

During the winter, Hillis has traveled to Norway where there are only three to four hours of sunlight per day. There, she says it is common to see heated bathroom floors, and windproof homes that are built to last for 300 or 400 years. Last year, Hillis’ travels included a cruise to the top of Norway above the Arctic Circle, where she didn’t see any sunlight for a week. “Getting to experience that as an outsider was very eye-opening,” she says. “Some people live without sunlight for half a year. Their culture really has a unique way of coping with that.”

Regardless of the weather, Hillis advises students to embrace everything that study abroad has to offer. “They should take advantage of every opportunity to learn about the culture,” she says,” In terms of climate, this could mean looking for ways to find out about how weather systems have influenced that culture, and what makes these destinations unique.”

Any student thinking of studying abroad is welcome and encouraged to visit the Buckman Center in Burrow Hall, review the center’s InRhodes pages, speak with an international peer advisor, or see what other students are doing on the center’s Facebook page.

 Erin Hillis in Kirkenes, Norway, January 2011, during the two hours of “twilight” (no sun) in the middle of the day




Tags: Campus Life, Staff, Students


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