Winter on Exchange

Spring has definitely sprung in Edinburgh. Last weekend, we saw the sunshine for the first time in what felt like months, and everyone emerged from their winter hideouts. As awesome as the change in weather is, it got me reflecting on the not-so-great weeks leading up to this. I don’t want to scare anyone off of dong an exchange in Edinburgh, but winter here is a bit bleak. It’s not cold like Toronto, but it is very, very dark (as in, only 7 hours of daylight in December and January kind of dark) and it rains pretty much endlessly. That kind of weather can really wear you down, which is not what you want when you’re on exchange!
A typical grey and wintry day in Edinburgh
A typical grey and wintry day in Edinburgh
That’s not to say that winter on exchange isn’t fun. I promise it is! It’s just that you have to work a little harder to keep it exciting and avoid the winter blues. So now that I’ve emerged on the other side of this winter, and I’ve had some time to reflect on the experience of winter on exchange, I thought I’d put together a guide to getting through your own winter abroad. Here are some ideas for making your winter on exchange a little bit brighter.
  1. Go somewhere where braving the winter weather is more fun. It sounds counterintuitive to go on a vacation to somewhere wintry when you’re getting dragged down by winter, but I went to Copenhagen recently for a winter break, and it was a blast. It was definitely cold and wintry, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also a city that’s set up for the cold, with tons of cozy cafes and warm shops. If cities in winter aren’t so much your thing, you could also go skiing! Especially if you’re in Europe, it’s easy to reach some good mountains.
Copenhagen in December
Copenhagen in December
  1. Chase the sun. If the idea of going somewhere cold isn’t your speed, I still recommend going away. Going somewhere warmer and sunnier for a little while can make you feel great and steel you for another couple of weeks of winter. The bonus of being on exchange is that it’ll probably open up a bunch of new warm and sunny destinations for you to explore. 
Full disclosure: I actually took this photo in Italy in September. But just looking at it makes winter feel a little less bleak!
Full disclosure: I actually took this photo in Italy in September. But just looking at it makes winter feel a little less bleak!
  1. Embrace the outdoors. Winter in Edinburgh is not a pleasant time to be outside. But staying inside all winter is a) not practical and b) a recipe for becoming lonely and bored. Finding something fun to do outside can make the winter weather a little more bearable. Being on exchange also makes finding new activities like this super easy to do – every exchange student I meet is super keen to try out new things, so you’ll always have a buddy.
  1. Find some new indoor activities. Ok, ok, I know I just told you to get outside and do something in the great outdoors, but sometimes, the weather is just too gross to venture out. In this case, inside activities that keep you entertained and active are your best friend. This winter, I took up rock climbing, which was a fantastic way to spend cold, dark evenings inside. Edinburgh also has a pretty cool rock climbing community, so getting involved in climbing gave me a totally new perspective on the city.
  1. When all else fails, just hang out. All of my suggestions so far have been pretty action-based. I guess that’s because I tend to think of being on exchange as pretty action packed – I’m always trying to do something new or exciting. But sometimes – especially in winter – there’s nothing better than just hanging out with hot chocolate, watching movies, backing cookies, or doing whatever it is that floats your boat. It might not seem super exciting, but trust me, everyone (even your most adventurous exchange student friends) wants a chance to hang out and be lazy. Own it!
After slogging through a wet and dark Edinburgh winter, I can say being on exchange during the winter is a little tricky. But I hope this list is a good jumping off point for making your winter on exchange just as great as you imagined!

2 comments on “Winter on Exchange

  1. Hi there!

    I’ve loved reading about your exchange and am glad you enjoyed your stay in Edinburgh so much. I’m working on getting to England myself on an exchange for next year but as I use the UofT Search Tool for partner universities, I don’t seem to see Edinburgh listed. Is this because you arranged it for yourself? I’d love to hear back from you, thanks!

    1. Hi Miran,

      I didn’t arrange my exchange myself, as Edinburgh and U of T were exchange partners when I planned my exchange. As far as I know Edinburgh and U of T still have an exchange agreement! Try using this search tool and typing in “Edinburgh”. It came up for me there. Let me know how it goes! And if you’ve got any questions about Edinburgh or the UK in general I’m happy to help 🙂

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