You want to study in Russia but fear the cold spells? Your worries are groundless. First, Russia is a large country having different climatic zones and second, following a few simple rules will help you brave the frosts.
The Russian winter is a beautiful season, most Russians love it and are happy when it arrives enjoying sparkling snow, merry winter outings, skiing, sledding and skating. Beautiful winterscapes were captured on canvass by great artists and celebrated by poets. Famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin who had Ethiopian roots used to say that “my health benefits from Russian cold”.
Incidentally, researchers noted a positive effect of cold spells. Harvard University scientists believe that low temperatures are beneficial for the cardio-vascular system as they improve blood circulation and increase blood flow to internal organs and fine blood vessels, the capillaries, and their oxygenation.
Russians have a saying: a Siberian is not the one who has no fear of frost but he who is warmly clothed. It is really true. Winter wear should be loose and layered to help you stay warm. In winter, Russians prefer to wear warm sweaters or roll-necks made of wool, cashmere, angora or fleece. Wear a T-shirt or thermal clothing under the sweater; make sure to choose the correct type of thermals; dedicated clothing for sports or outdoor activities has different properties.
Put on a quilted waistcoat for extra warmth. Of course, it is very important to choose quality overclothes. A down coat or a parka would be most convenient. Many clothing brands are now available in the Russian market; those that specialise in winter wear would suit you best. Lining can be natural or synthetic. Synthetic insulation is often more effective than down. Thinsulate, isosoft and hollowfibre are modern insulation materials.
Lining comes together with a membrane: a thin pliable sheet of material glued to the fabric helps keep you warm. The membrane’s function is to support normal microclimate between skin and fabric. Gore-Tex, Triple-Point, Sympatex and Ultrex are best-known membranes. You will also need a warm cap with ear flaps (a baseball cap won’t do), a scarf and gloves or mittens.
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Famous Russian military leader Alexander Suvorov used to say “keep you head cold and your feet warm”. We’d go along with the second part but challenge the first as we believe that a winter cap is also necessary. So, you’ll need quality winter boots. Make sure they’re not too tight or your feet will freeze quickly. Natural fur boots with natural inner soles are preferable.
Thermoplastic polyurethane lug sole boots would be optimum for walking on icy surfaces. The above technology is used in the production of both outer garments and footwear. For example, Gore-Tex shoes will keep your feet dry and comfortable in cold months.
Ugg boots are a good winter option; they are light, warm and easy footwear. Valenki, or wool felt boots (traditional Russian winter footwear if somewhat exotic) would be a win-win choice. They are rarely used at present by townsfolk, but are still popular in the countryside. Customers are now offered embroidered, patterned or ornamented valeniki. Valenki are usually worn with galoshes (rubber overshoes) to protect them from water and tear.
Winter food and drinks
Balanced diet in winter is as important as warm clothes. On the plus side, you can have square meals in winter without being scared of gaining weight because cold weather speeds up your metabolism. Start your day with hot breakfast. In the morning, Russians usually eat oat, rice, semolina, and millet porridge and cottage cheese pancakes or fried eggs. Hot thick soups are standard first course dishes for dinner.
Don’t forget about hot cocoa drinks, tea with lemon and honey and hot mulled wine (you can make it alcohol free by mixing hot cherry or grape juice with spices and fruit). You can also try hot “sbiten” made of honey, spices and herbs, a traditional Russian drink. Dissolve honey in hot water, add spices (cloves, cinnamon, star anis, black pepper, cardamon and dried peppermint) and boil for ten minutes. This drink can warm you up; also, it has healing properties and helps treat colds.
In Russia, you might hear people say that drinking vodka makes you warmer in winter. Try not to follow this advice, alcohol dilates blood vessels and briefly gives you a sense of warmth but in the long run this can lead to severe hypothermia.
How to protect skin during cold weather
As hard frosts set in, don’t forget to apply some winter cream on your face an hour before going out to prevent skin peeling. Mosturisers won’t do; you need an oil rich cream. Baby cream would be OK, you can find it in any pharmacy. Use daily care lip balm to treat and prevent dry and chapped lips.
As you see, it is not that difficult to prepare for the cold spell. Don’t fear frosty weather: all international students quickly adapt in Russia, and many even embrace Russian traditions and take a dip in ice-holes on Epiphany (19 January). It is believed that water has healing properties on that day. There has not been a single case of illness after properly arranged bathing in freezing water. Russians celebrate many holidays in winter, such as the New Year, Christmas, Student’s Day and Shrove Tide; you surely won’t be bored. You will find this season very scenic both in urban and rural areas.
Many international students of Russian universities say that they have come to love Russian winter and that snow is a positive miracle. Come to see everything with your own eyes!