10 things you learn the first time you move to a country with 4 friggin’ seasons

Winter, spring, summer, and fall. Europeans and other natives of the temperate regions are used to this vicious cycle of seasons. No sweat.

But if you come from the tropics or any country that doesn’t have to deal with four different seasons a year, things can be disorienting and even challenging.

I come from the Philippines, a tropical country in Southeast Asia. Back there, we only have two seasons: dry and wet, but it basically feels like summer the whole year. So moving to a country like Belgium was a pack of surprises and unexpected life lessons.

If you also grew up in warmer climate, you just might be able to relate. If not, here’s what it can be like to experience the four seasons for the first time. You learn that:

1.    Sunny doesn’t exactly mean warm

And you’re forced to give up some of your old notions about the sun because a blazing ball of light in the sky doesn’t always mean it’s going to be a warm day.

In the tropics, when we say sunny, we mean anywhere between warm and sizzling hot. You see the sun, and you feel it. In a temperate country like Belgium, it’s perfectly possible for you to be standing under the sun and still freeze to death in winter and autumn. You see the sun, but you don’t feel it. It’s just a prop in the sky.

The good thing is you learn never to take the warmth of the sun for granted – ever again. You even realize that “chasing the sun” is no longer just an expression or a figure of speech.  It is now your reality.

Not always as warm as it looks. (Ave. George Bergmann, Ixelles)

2.    Dressing a duvet is really just another form of sumo wrestling

And if you’re inexperienced, you will lose the match miserably.

A duvet does not exist in the bedding vocabulary of people who come from warm countries. Even blankets are dispensable in places with high temperatures. For the first-timer, encountering a duvet can be like meeting an alien. You can’t figure out what it is exactly. An overfed blanket? A half-evolved mattress?

For that reason, dressing a duvet is probably one of the greatest challenges that awaits a newbie to the temperate world. It’s like wrestling with a huge mass of something stubborn and unpredictable. But once you learn the trick to doing it properly, your sense of accomplishment can be so immense that you feel compelled to add it to your résumé: “Can dress a duvet like a master.”

3.    Your wardrobe depends on the season

The seasons dictate your attire. The weather app becomes your fashion consultant.

In tropical and sunnier regions of the world, you usually wear the same kind of clothes every day except for the occasional jacket or coat when it rains. The density of the fabric doesn’t change much either.

In a country with four seasons, you learn to grow four types of wardrobe with varying types of fabric. Light clothes for spring. Much lighter clothes for summer. Thick clothes for autumn. Even thicker clothes for winter.

And when it gets really, really cold, you can forget about dressing pretty. All that matters is surviving. Never mind if you look like a bundle of one hundred pillows. You have to stay alive out there.

4.    And there are so many types of jackets, coats, boots, etc.

Parkas, dusters, duffel coats, pea coats, trench coats, bomber jackets, windbreakers, capes, ponchos. Who knew there could be so many kinds of outerwear? And not just for each season, but also for each mid-season. In the tropics, there’s pretty much just one type of jacket. And we call it – a jacket.

And then, there are the boots.  Ankle boots, knee-high, thigh-high. Thin, thick, super thick, super duper thick.  Everyday boots, rain boots, snow boots…. In hotter countries, boots are typically just a senseless fashion statement. because – why the hell would you wear boots in hot weather?

Summer sale in Brussels

5.    July and January are the best times to squander your money

Grand summer and winter sales become the very highlights of your shopping life, perhaps even your entire life on earth if you’re a shopaholic.

You learn that it’s worth waiting for July and January to purchase whatever expensive thing you’ve been salivating over because, wow up to 50% discount!

And by the time sale season comes around, you probably already have a long mental list of things you’ve been dying to buy.

The beautiful mess of autumn

6.    Autumn is not just the loveliest of seasons, it’s also the messiest

Oh that time of year when your world is suddenly sprinkled and splashed with dazzling reds, oranges, yellows, gold… Autumn is undeniably the most breathtaking of all seasons. But it also entails a lot of work.

Leaves falling and scattering all over the ground wherever you go. No use sweeping or shovelling because the moment you turn your back, a new batch of eager leaves will arrive. It’s as if they’re just waiting for you to clean the yard so they can happily fill up the space just vacated by their fellow dead leaves.

If they were pieces of paper and plastic, maybe those leaves would have driven you nuts by now. But because they come in all sorts of pretty colors, it gets harder to recognize them for what they are: a mess. But yes, a beautiful mess.

Just try walking in a winter wonderland

7.    Snow isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” or so the song goes. And many other songs and poems and movies that speak of just how mesmerizing it is to walk in a backdrop of white paradise. And you discover how amazingly true it is when you experience winter for the first time.

That is, until the snow on the ground starts murdering your feet. As they say, flames are not what get you burned. It’s the cold in the ice. Snow sludges can also trip you up here and slip you up there. And you can’t drive in certain places because they’re all covered in snow.

Winter wonderlands are fantastic. Just layer up and watch your step.

8.    Days can be incredibly long or short

In tropical regions, sunrise and sunset follow a regular and unchanging pattern, more or less. Hardly anything disturbs the sun’s body clock. The mechanics are also simple. When the sun is up, it’s bright outside.  When the sun is down, it’s dark outside.

So pardon some of us tropical natives when we go wild the first time we witness daylight at 10:00 in the evening during summer. It’s like a UFO sighting for us, you see, and something definitely worth sharing on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, Pinterest, Multiply, Friendster…

Forgive us too if we freak out the first time we experience waking up on an autumn or winter morning and find that it’s still pitch black outside. This just doesn’t happen where we come from.

Not as warm as it seems (De Haan)

9.    Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean the beach waters will be warm

You wish. But no. In four-seasoned countries like Belgium, sea temperatures tend to stay low even on hot summer days. You might as well wear a jacket over your skimpy swimsuit. Like that will make a difference.

When the cold water hits you, that’s when you’ll start missing the beaches in your own country, and all the other places where you can swim any time you want without the danger of turning into a popsicle.

Summer picnics at Bois de la Cambre

10.   But most of all, you learn to be more adaptable

In a country where surroundings, habits, wardrobes, lifestyles, plans, and even people’s moods are affected by the seasons, you learn to accept that change is truly an inevitable part of life. And that it really isn’t all that bad because in the end, you become more flexible and resilient.

You learn to leave and expand your comfort zone from time to time because there really is no other way. Life goes on whether it’s bright and sunny or cold and deadly. But learning to endure harsh weather leads you to a deeper enjoyment and appreciation of warmer days.

Life can also be less boring when things are constantly changing. There’s always something different to look forward to. Barbecues and picnics in summer, flower festivals in spring, colorful festivals in autumn, skiing and ice skating in winter. 

Eventually, you learn to go with the flow because the seasons are just a reflection of human life. Birth in spring, growth in summer, old age in autumn, death in winter, and back to the season of life and rebirth.

The four seasons can be a lot to take in the first time you experience them. But after a while, every season becomes no different from an old familiar friend that keeps coming back to visit you every once a year.