60 exchange students from Japan arrive in Minnesota just in time for winter storm

This is many of the students' first time experiencing snow.

A person sits in the snow after snowboarding
Japanese exchange student Yukina Endo enjoys her first winter storm in Minnesota on Wednesday.
Courtesy photo

When a group of 60 students flew from Japan to Minnesota on Saturday as part of a cultural exchange program through the St. Paul Intercultural Institute, they knew they might see snow at some point.

A student poses in the snow
Airi Kita, an exchange student visiting Bethel University from Japan, poses in fresh snow that fell as part of a winter storm in Minnesota in February 2023.
Courtesy Airi Kita

During their three-week stay, the students will study at Bethel University and spend evenings and weekends with host families. While some of the students have experienced cold weather and even light snow in parts of Japan before, nothing could have prepared them for the huge snowstorm that hit Minnesota within days of them arriving.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the students have already experienced classes being moved online due to weather and will have a traditional “snow day” for the first time on Thursday.

Airi Kita, one student from Japan, said students expected to see snow in Minnesota, but didn’t anticipate it would be on this scale or cause school to be canceled.

“It's really exciting to have snowy days like this,” Kita said. “But the temperatures are really low and I'm still adjusting myself to this weather. Being in the snow is completely different. It is kind of like not really comfortable for me.”

Most of Kita’s time in Minnesota so far has been spent inside and away from the cold, but she plans to get outside in the snow soon.

“My host brother is 8 and sisters are 12 and 10,” Kita said. “So they're still young to play in backyard with snow and planning to make snowballs tonight.”

Kita’s plans for Thursday’s official snow day include sleeping, baking, watching movies and catching up on schoolwork.

Another student, Yuri Hirao, said she’s not the best at dealing with the cold weather. Extra layers of clothing have been helping, Hirao said.

“Actually, I live in Osaka,” Hirao said. “So it's a bit hotter there than in Minnesota. So that's interesting, but I actually am not good at the cold weather.”

Hirao also plans to spend the snow day catching up on schoolwork and relaxing.

Two people sit in fresh snow
Yuri Hirao, right, an exchange student visiting Bethel University from Japan, poses with her host sister Maya Duffy in snow from a snowstorm in February 2023.
Courtesy Yuri Hirao

Yukina Endo is another Japanese student studying in Minnesota. Endo said one cool experience during the snowstorm has been getting to stand on a completely frozen lake.

“I walked on the frozen lake and I jumped a lot. I felt a little bit scary,” Endo said. “Yeah, it's my first time to stand on the frozen lake, so I was so excited.”

Although the weather has impacted the first few days of their time in Minnesota, the group of exchange students is making other plans for when the storm passes, like visiting libraries, making friends at Bethel University and even trying Baskin Robbins for the first time.

Correction (Feb. 24, 2023): An earlier version of this story misspelled a last name.