Learning to make snowmen

Students share first-time memories in the snow


Farhana Shafi was disappointed when her first winter in Buffalo came to an end – she still had not made a perfect snowman. The senior biotechnology and communication major from Malaysia had seen snowmen in children’s storybooks growing up but had never made her own.

International students make up about 17 percent of UB’s population, according to UB Admissions. Some of these students have never experienced snow prior to coming to Buffalo.

Buffalo averages about 93.6 inches of snow in a year and is No. 9 in the country for highest average snowfall per year, according to City-Data.com. The “Snovember” storm just two weeks ago dropped up to 84 inches of snow in some parts of Buffalo’s Southtowns.

As Shafi rode her bike to school in November 2012, she saw real snowflakes for the first time.

“I still remember the beautiful snowflakes peacefully descending from the grey clouds and melting on my right palm,” Shafi said.

Before she left Malaysia to come to the United States, Shafi went to a Malaysian four-season house – a house exhibition set up as various seasons – so she could touch, feel and taste artificial snow.

Today, the beauty of snow has become part of how Shafi remembers Buffalo.

In her second Buffalo winter, she was studying when across her window she saw “magic dusts falling from the sky, as if God’s hand was sprinkling something above the heavens to the Earth,” she said.

That day became one of the most beautiful visual memories of her life in Buffalo, Shafi said.

Rohit Dubey, a graduate computer science major from India, said newspaper articles he read about snowstorms gave him the impression that snowstorms were terrible.

Like Dubey, Ladan Golshanara, a graduate computer science student from Iran, was expecting the “worst” after listening to the news. Once she got to Buffalo, however, she was surprised at not having to walk knee-deep in the snow.

“It was much better than what I had imagined,” Golshanara said. “The school shuttles were warm, the roads cleared regularly and the campus was always cleared of snow.”

Justina Virga, a senior English and political science major, moved to Buffalo with her husband in 2012. She spent most of her childhood in Florida and moved to Brazil at age 20 – she was used to a tropical climate and not needing snow boots, winter coats and snow shovels.

As she got used to the weather, Virga said having different seasons in Buffalo was great because she never experienced snow in Florida or Brazil.

“My husband and I go outside and have snow fights, and the dog loves being buried in it,” she said.

Randy Schiff, an associate English professor from California and the director of undergraduate studies for the English department, said he was initially terrified of the snow because of the national media coverage of Buffalo. His parents, who grew up in Chicago, would also tell him “horrific” snow stories.

California gets very little snowfall every year, but Schiff remembers leaving high school for the day to go “sledding” with his friends.

“We must have looked ridiculous, since the snow probably amounted to one fourth of an inch and didn’t even stick,” he said.

Schiff said after enduring his first winter in Buffalo, dealing with the snow was easier than he expected. He also thinks snow-filled parks are “sublimely beautiful.”

“It is wonderful that Buffalo usually doesn’t shut down in the snow, since I think people tend to come together and be friendlier during wintertime, when we are all aware of the often awesome power of weather,” Schiff said.

Not everyone who moved to Buffalo enjoyed their first winter here.

Hsueh Kim Low, a junior marketing business administrator from Malaysia, and Virga grew up in a rainforest-like climate and found it difficult to adjust to Buffalo’s sharp winds and low temperatures.

“Snow isn’t the enemy, but the wind [is], since the snow eventually melts,” Virga said.

Amel Mugannahi, a sophomore biology major from Yemen, said she never thought it would snow so much in Buffalo.

“I was terrified when I woke up one morning and saw everything buried in snow,” Mugannahi said.

To keep safe, these snow newcomers bought winter coats, stocked up on food and kept their home insulated.

“My friends and I insulated the whole house, sealing any gaps found between window frames and doors,” Dubey said. “We also made sure we had enough grocery and food to last us a while in case of heavy snow storms.”

For Schiff, braving Buffalo’s wintery weather became easier over time.

“I definitely drive better in it, knowing it’s best to keep it slow and steady,” Schiff said. “My shoveling skills have improved, though I still have not found the right approach to salting sidewalks and walkways.”

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