The Michigan winter. It’s a phenomenon I had grown tired of hearing about in the weeks leading up to my first semester at the University. It was always the first thing my friends and relatives in India asked me about when I mentioned this school, because even halfway across the world, tales of the Midwest winter are common knowledge. Although it annoyed me, I understood their concern. How was a boy who has lived all his life in a city that has never seen snow going to survive in Ann Arbor? I was afraid, but I always comforted myself with one thought: how bad could it possibly be?
It was bad. The first discovery, which came as a massive surprise, was the approximate time period of this “winter.” I had asked around, and most people said that it gets really cold by December and stays that way until February. What I did not realize, however, is that “really cold” is a relative concept. As early as October, my resolve started to crumble. The lower temperatures coupled with seemingly unyielding winds made for a duo that I was not prepared for. After less than a week, I considered opening up my collection of winter clothes. That was when I made my second discovery.
The cold might be unbearable, but it’s your ego that kills you. I had promised myself very early that if other people were not wearing a winter jacket, I wouldn’t either. If people were walking out of Starbucks or M-36 holding a cup of coffee with their bare hands, I would not be wearing any gloves either. My goal was to not put on a single piece of winter clothing until the first of November. I succeeded, but at great personal cost. On every walk to the Michigan Union and every bike ride across the Diag, I remember being unable to feel my hands and desperately trying to cover up every inch of my body to prevent any wind from reaching it. Every step in the freezing cold of Ann Arbor was a reminder of the worried look on my parents’ faces when I said I wanted to go to Michigan and that I’d deal with the cold. The addition of a thick winter jacket and boots to my set of winter clothes helped, but it couldn’t keep up with the rapidly falling temperatures.
Over the last week, as we collectively felt the mercy of the weather gods (albeit only temporarily, it seems) I thought back to the peak winter months and felt a sense of victory. I had, for the most part, made it through my first winter. Nevertheless, I couldn’t deny the effect weeks of cloudy skies and shorter days had had on me. From a very young age, we are surrounded by the idea that winter is associated with more negative themes — sadness, loneliness and sometimes even death. Recurring themes in poems I was taught during my middle school and high school years — even the greats often resorted to this archetype. It is also an idea many echo when they speak of the adverse effects colder weather have on college students, and to a certain extent, I agree with this sentiment.
From being unable to play outdoor sports to being discouraged from leaving the house at all, the harsh winters of Michigan did curb some of my happiness. I began to notice that on the rare occasions when we had a warmer day, I would see a drastic upturn in not only my mood, but the entire vibe on campus. This past week has been a testament to that. In what couldn’t have been a better buildup to the St. Patrick’s day celebrations, seeing people in shorts and t-shirts, gathering in masses at Elbel Field or the Diag, was a sight for sore eyes. It might not be spring yet, but it feels like the first few weeks of the fall semester, which were some of my most memorable on this campus. That being said, I firmly believe that the Michigan winter is part of the experience. It is a part of the lore of this great school and if nothing else, it has given me a newfound appreciation for the sun. I might not have known it before, but boy, oh boy do I love the sun.
That is, of course, until I’m back in India for summer break and wishing that I was sipping some hot chocolate in snowy Ann Arbor.
Rushabh Shah is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.