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February 2011
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Cold Enough for You?

For warm-weather Katies, Minnesota winters mean snow, fear of frostbite and a willingness to forsake all fashion sense.


  • photo Edith SanchezEdith Sanchez, senior
    Likely major: Psychology                     Hometown: Tucson, Arizona
    Average February temperature at home: High, 69°F • Low, 40°F

    "When I decided I wanted to go to St. Kate's, I didn't really think about the weather. Then once I got accepted and started packing all my things, I started realizing that it's going to be very cold. I wasn't sure what kind of stuff I needed to be outside in the wintertime. I bought this big winter jacket at a garage sale from one of my neighbors back home who's originally from the Midwest, and that's whatI brought when I arrived here this fall.

    "Back in high school, when I told everyone I was going to St. Kate's, one of my teachers said, 'Are you crazy? You're going to freeze up there.' But I was excited to layer and pull on long johns and turtlenecks. I even joked that I wanted to be all bundled up so I could barely walk or sit down, like the little kid from 'A Christmas Story.'"
  • photo Leah Nankumba Leah Nankumba, sophomore
    Major: Accounting                     Hometown: Kampala, Uganda
    Average February temperature at home: High, 82°F • Low, 64°F

    "I grew up by the equator. We don't have winter. It is warm and humid all year. Even at night it doesn't go below 60 degrees. I got to Minnesota for the first time at the end of August, and it already felt kind of chilly. To be honest, I was scared of the weather. I thought, 'Oh no. I am going to die in this cold.' My first winter here it snowed in November. It was beautiful. Then it warmed up and everything melted. I thought, 'Was that it? Was that the famous Minnesota winter?' But my Midwestern friends laughed. They said, 'Wait until January.' Then it was January and I was thinking, 'Oh no. When does it end?' And it doesn't end. It doesn't stop until June.

    "My roommate is from Duluth. She says, 'No matter how long you live here, you never really get used to the cold. You just learn to cope with it.' Some people wear shorts outside during the winter. There's no way that's going to work for me. I'm wearing two sweatshirts and a winter jacket right now. That's how I cope."
  • photo Pooja ShahPooja Shah, first year
    Major: Environmental Studies                     Hometown: Kampala, Uganda
    Average February temperature at home: High, 69°F • Low, 40°F

    "Where I'm from we don't really have a winter or a summer. Except for the rainy season, it's all pretty much the same. The hottest we get at home is 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). So in the beginning when I got here it was kind of hot, but everyone kept telling me to enjoy it because the winter would be coming. To tell the truth, I was worried. 'Will I be able to survive the winter?' I wondered. I've lived in Africa my whole life.

    "My roommate is from Wisconsin. She told me it gets really, really cold here. It's a good thing this whole place is heated, I guess. Since everybody told me it was going to be seriously freezing, I made plans early to go away for winter break. My uncle who lives in L.A. invited me to visit him. I was pretty sure it would be warmer there'"
  • photo Heather KolnickHeather Kolnick, first year
    Majors: Studio art and political science     Hometown: Thousand Oaks, California
    Average February temperature at home: High, 70°F • Low, 50°F

    "When I heard about Minnesota winters I was very concerned, but at the same time very excited. It seems like a challenge and a fun new experience, and I couldn't wait for it to start snowing. I had seen snow on the ground before, but I had never actually seen snow fall, so I was excited for that, too.

    "The first snowstorm was one of the most exciting moments for me so far at school. I could sit in front of a window watching it for hours, but I prefer playing in it. I tried to make an igloo after the first snowstorm. I used the trash can from my dorm room to make molds for the blocks of snow. A couple of my friends helped me out, and we actually made surprising progress. The igloo ended up being about 3 feet tall."
  • photo Agnes NyagaAgnes Nyaga, senior
    Major: Nursing                     Hometown: Mombasa, Kenya
    Average February temperature at home: High, 90°F • Low, 74°F

    "If I were to talk to a student who is coming to Minnesota from a warm country like Kenya, I would tell them: 'Please go do some shopping. Buy warm coats and shoes. Have snow boots and scarves with you at all times because when winter comes here, it comes. You need to be prepared. Also, it is OK to dress warmly even if other people around you are dressing in shorts and T-shirts with no coats.' It doesn't matter if I look ridiculous. At least I'm not freezing.

    "My first-year roommate was from a small town in the Midwest. She told me that I should get out and enjoy the winter, that it was the best way to cope. So the first time it snowed, I bundled up and got on one of those things that you sit on and it goes downhill — I don't remember what you call them. I went down only one time. The cold wind rushed past my face and snow got in my eyes. That was enough for me, never again. My friends still tease me about that."
  • photo Lorena RamirezLorena Ramirez, sophomore
    Major: Physical Therapy                     Hometown: Gardena, California
    Average February temperature at home: High, 70°F • Low, 50°F

    "Sometimes some of my friends who were born and raised in Minnesota will start complaining about the cold, how they are so tired of the winter. I'll say, 'I'm fine. I'm from southern California. Suck it up.'

    "I've been here for two years now, and to me snow is just another form of weather. It's like cold rain that stays on the ground. It makes some things a bit harder, but it is fun. I love playing in the snow."

As associate director of admission for St. Catherine University, Susan Rudd recruits young women from around the United States for the baccalaureate program in the College for Women.

"I love St. Kate's, and I'm truly excited about the quality of the educational experience we provide for our students," she says. "So it's not hard for me to go into a high school somewhere and talk up our programs, our mission and our beautiful campus."

"It is OK to dress warmly even if other people dress in shorts and t-shirts. It doesn't matter if I look ridiculous. At least I'm not freezing. - Agness Nyaga '11, Mombasa, KenyaRudd recruits mainly on the West Coast. Each year she spends a week in southern California, meeting with high school students, parents and teachers. She fields a range of questions about every element of the St. Catherine experience, from the benefits of single-gender education and employment rates for graduates to the safety of an urban campus.

At some point during these California conversations, the same question invariably gets asked.

"They're all curious about our weather," Rudd says with a smile. "Unless they've got Midwestern roots, these young women and their families usually haven't experienced anything like a Minnesota winter. They want to know how bad it will get. Sometimes they even ask if I think they'll be able to survive it."

Rudd doesn't sugarcoat the realities of Minnesota weather — nor could she in a year when a 17-inch snowfall captured national attention after the Metrodome roof collapsed. She explains that it does get cold, dark and snowy over the winter months, but she also talks about the positive side of the season, about ice skating and cross-country skiing, snowball fights and sledding, and the hush of campus after a pristine snowfall.

In some ways, Rudd appreciates the conversation: Each young woman's reactions are a barometer of her heartiness and sense of adventure.

"West Coast students who would consider coming all the way to St. Kate's are already open to leaving home," she explains. "If they've done even a little bit of research they know that Minnesota gets cold. But these young women want the adventure. They want to do something different. The winter is just one of the challenges they signed up for in the first place."

Still, every year, as the days get shorter and the temperature drops, Rudd worries that one of her first-year recruits will have a hard time adjusting to the season. "I feel responsible for them," she says. "We've built a relationship. When it starts getting cold, I start asking myself, 'Are they OK?' But usually they're just fine. They tell me they were expecting the cold, and while most don't like it that much, they know they can live through it."

From oven to freezer

In recent years, a majority of St. Catherine's international students in the baccalaureate program have come from countries where temperatures rarely reach freezing — and snow is absolutely unheard of. "International interest in St. Kate's often runs in cycles," explains Aimee Thostenson, associate director for international admission. "Graduates recommend the University to students from their high schools, sisters talk to sisters. So we see students in regional clusters."

"West Coast students who come all the way to St. Kate's are already open to leaving home. The winter is one of the challenges they signed up for." - Susan Rudd, associate director of admissionInternational applications are up 110 percent in the past year, due largely to the College of St. Catherine becoming St. Catherine University in June 2009. "From an international perspective, the word university works better to explain the institution," Thostenson says. "The word college can mean high school in many other parts of the world." This year's international class has 60 students from 18 different countries, with Colombia, Ghana, India, Nepal and United Arab Emirates among the warmer climes. Thostenson predicts an increase in applications from Vietnam, another country where residents never experience harsh Minnesota-style winters.

International admission staff members work hard to prepare potential students for the weather. "In our recruitment materials we show where Minnesota is on the U.S. map," Thostenson says. "We give the temperature range. We show photos of winter." But since few international students make a campus visit, it is hard to describe the reality of winter to people for whom bone-chilling cold is a foreign concept.

Thostenson and her team work hard to prepare students once they've arrived. "During orientations we talk about the winters a lot," she says. "We explain how to dress warmly and what to expect from living with cold. We take them shopping for warm coats, boots and clothes. But no matter how much we explain, the first winter usually is a surprise to our students from warmer climates. Four seasons can be a shock when you're used to one or two."

Has a horrible cold snap or a fierce blizzard ever sent an international student packing? Thostenson hasn't heard of anything like that in her 14 years at St. Kate's. "We try to be honest about our winters here," she says. "When I talk to anyone who is going to be working with potential students, my guiding philosophy is always this: Be positive but honest. Nobody deserves to be surprised by the reality of our winter weather."

Andy Steiner is managing editor of SCAN.


10 Best Things About Winter in Minnesota

10. Hot chocolate in the CDC

9. Snowball fights on the Quad

8. Shoveling builds your upper body

7. Cold air = clear mind

6. Making snow angels

5. Layers look lovely (really!)

4. Sledding down Dew Drop hill

3. More time for Netflix

2. No mosquitos

1. You'll have something to brag about when you get home.