So it gets cold in Eastern Europe. Really cold during some months, if you didn’t know. So, should you pack all your winter gear with you or just plan on buying it once you are there? We’ve the answers you are looking for. Well first things first! Congrats spending a semester in Europe with ILP.
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So, next order of business — the weather in these countries. Depending on your semester, you could be dealing with temperatures in the 80’s or 90’s for part of your time as a volunteer….who knew? But don’t worry, it’ll also be cold. And when it gets frigid arctic cold in the fall and spring semesters, here’s what alumni have said about bringing vs buying warm clothes:
Bringing It With You
You have it the minute you walk off the plane
If you are going Spring semester, this is a huge pro. It could be 15° F the minute you land, which means you are going to want your hat, boots, gloves, earmuffs, scarf and coat ASAP.
You know you can find what you are looking for
You'll be able to buy warm clothes in Europe, but you just don't know what's there exactly until you are shopping, right? Buying them at home means you know exactly what you will be wearing all semester long.
This is really the reason we recommend that you bring everything with you; there's nothing worse than the weather being cold and you still haven't found you need so you're going without.
You don't have to budget it in your semester money
If you buy your warm clothes before you go, all your ILP budget money can go for vacations at the Black Sea or these gorgeous Russian castles.
Fitting it all into your suitcase on the way there
Coats and boots are bulky. You'll need to make room in your bulging suitcase for winter clothes, along with your school supplies. It can be a tight fit.
No need for the fur hat or coat souvenir
If you pack your winter clothes, you won't need to buy any while you are abroad, which could be a downside....a coat or hat would make a rocking souvenir.
Making sure it's warm enough
If you're volunteering from a state that doesn't really do winter (hi there, Arizona!) you might be in for a shock. Your local malls might not carry the kind of coats and boots you'll need for a Russian or Ukrainian winter.
Eastern European winters are more like Idaho or Wisconsin winters, so if you've survived a winter semester at BYU-Idaho walking to classes then you've got a good idea of what to expect.
Buying It There
Seriously, if you invest, you could be wearing your Russian boots or Ukrainian hats for years and years. (Oh and don't miss out on these Eastern Europe souvenirs — they are also cool).
Such a cool souvenir!
There's room in your suitcase
On the way over, there will plenty of room for your other clothes and school supplies because you won't need to fit a puffy coat or fur lined boots inside.
It's a good option for Fall Semesters
For volunteers who are flying in during the summer or fall semesters, it's not going to be freezing when you land, so there's no rush to even have a warm coat for at least a month.
Get the chance to shop with your local friends
Here's what Michael F. had to say (an ILP Russia volunteer): “I was very happy with my decision to buy my winter clothes here. Have some Russians take you shopping, they will know what to look for. I bought my coat with my host family and my boots on my own. I am still wearing my coat years later but my boots died a long time ago.”
Even with the exchange rate, things aren't much cheaper than at home. You will be able to find a cheap coat or boots there but they might not even last you the whole semester. So if you want quality winter gear in Poland, Romania, Russia, Lithuania or Ukraine (etc.), plan on that in your budget.
The clothes aren’t much cheaper
You’ll have to make sure you get it home
You won't have to worry about bringing warm clothes over, but you will need to bring them back home, especially if you paid good money for those boots.
You might not be able to shop around
If you need to get a coat ASAP, you might not have much time to shop around, so this may not be a great option if you are coming for Spring semester — it will be cold when you first arrive and you'll definitely want a coat the minute you get off the plane.
Tips for no matter what you decide
Pack and Dress In Layers
This is HUGE. No matter if you bring clothes or buy them there, you want to pack lots of layers. Tee shirts, cardigans, long sleeved shirts, a couple sweatshirts...that kind of thing. Here's how to dress in the cold.
Buy/Bring A Long Coat
Packing or bringing a long coat is a smart idea. If you have one that goes down around your knees, you'll have something to sit on while you wait for the bus to your next fabulous cathedral. A hood is also a good idea — it helps with the wind!
Here is our list of the best coats to pack for a winter in Eastern Europe.
For a semester abroad in this part of the world, you want good quality boots that are comfortable, will keep your feet warm and are waterproof. Good tread on the soles are also nice for icy pavement. This blog post can help you with finding good brands.
Need a bit more help with your packing list?