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A southern girl’s South Bend winter survival guide

| Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Anna Falk | The Observer

As Thanksgiving break swiftly approaches, so do two of the harshest and most unforgiving South Bend seasons: finals and winter.

I’m a Texas transplant who has weathered 3+ years of South Bend snow, and even though I am not yet a seasoned veteran of Midwestern winters, I’ve learned a thing or two about braving the cold. Maybe none of this information is new to upperclassmen, but I’m writing this piece for all the freshmen who hail from more forgiving climates. I was in your snow boots once. Here’s a southern girl’s survival guide for South Bend winters.

1. See things in a new light.

Try as you might to soak up the sunshine from your dorm windows, but when it gets dark at 5:30 p.m. and the permacloud inevitably lives up to its permanent reputation, mood lighting is your only hope. However, dorms present students with a catch-22. Much of the overhead florescent overhead lighting is too harsh and objectively sterile. The coziest lighting alternative — fire — is expressly banned, even in the form of candles. 

The solution? Lamps, and lots of them. Dorm-safe options for ambient lighting include flameless candles, fairy lights and Himalayan salt lamps. If you have a TV in your dorm room, you can put a Yule log on in the background for the next best thing to a fire. My favorite cozy lighting option, however, is star-shaped paper lanterns — a type of folk decoration used both during Christmas and Diwali. 

Creating the right ambiance for winter requires adaptability, and I’m not just talking about lighting. When things get dark fast, be prepared to problem-solve and shift your perspective.

2. Bundle up.

One indisputable fact of winter is that it will be cold outside, so dress accordingly. 

If you haven’t already, invest in a good coat. Trust me, you will never regret the money you spent on being warm. If you have an aversion to puffy coats (like I did), leave it at the door. Winter fashion does not have to be boring. Pick a coat in a fun color or shape! 

If you have chronically bad circulation that leaves your extremities frozen during winter (like I do), you should never be seen without hand warmers in your pockets or your shoes. Never (and I mean never) underestimate the power of a good pair of wool socks. Scarves and hats are your nose and ears’ only saving grace against Jack Frost nipping at your nose (especially while walking through the Duncan-Debartolo wind tunnel). 

Don’t be afraid to bundle up when you’re indoors, too. Bring on the blankets and throw pillows. There are so many options: weighted blankets, faux fur, pattens, knits, etc. Pile a throw on top of a throw on top of a weighted blanket on top of a comforter. The world is your oyster, and you’re the cozy pearl right in the middle.

I say this to encourage you to pull the things you love in close as winter approaches.

3. Bring the outdoors in.

If you’re anything like me, you like to go for a post-lunch walk around St. Joe’s Lake to get a healthy dose of natural sunlight and vitamin D.

But if walks are not a daily practice for you, try letting some fresh air into your dorm by opening your windows for five minutes. Bring the outdoors back inside by incorporating some natural elements into your dorm decor. Pick up a natural wreath or garland of branches from Trader Joe’s. Make a dried orange garland to put up near your window. Adopt a plant. (I adopted a money tree last year. Its name is Lamar.) 

When the Earth lies dormant, it is easy to forget our reverence for life. Bring that appreciation back in. Take a lesson from the hibernating squirrels and chipmunks and slow down.

4. (Dis)connect.

Winter is a great time to unplug and reconnect with others. Make the most out of the time spent indoors by asking your dormmates to spend time with you doing something offline. Kill two birds with one stone.

An easy way to connect with your friends is over a warm meal. My go-to winter lunch is soup or chili from the dining hall or Au Bon Pain. Good conversation over a warm coffee, tea, hot chocolate or cider is the highlight of my winter. (Plus, if you carry warm drinks around, it’s a free hand warmer.) Warm food and warm conversation warm the heart. If you’re looking for other ideas, ask somebody in your dorm to play a board game with you, tackle a jigsaw puzzle or do a craft.

A good general winter study tip is to print out your readings. Reduce your screentime and wind down while being studious, what’s not to love?

During finals season, it is so important to take care of your mental and physical health. Look up from your laptop once in a while. Take the time to unplug from the grind of your assignments to connect with the people who are going through it with you. Your dorm community is supposed to be there for you, lean into them. Ask for support when you need it.

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About Claire Lyons

Claire is the current Viewpoint Editor for The Observer. She is a senior from Fort Worth, TX with majors in Honors English and political science. She is interested in fostering free speech on campus, the latest non-fiction essay collections and Sufjan Stevens.

Contact Claire