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Despite cold weather Defrosh provides warm welcome to new students

a/Student Living by

The back-to-school event line up is packed, from the organized ski trip Snow Jam to Carnival, Management’s weeklong fundraiser. Now add Defrosh this coming weekend—hosted by Power to Change, Newman Students’ Society, McGill Christian Fellowship, and Initiative 22—to the list.

The weekend-long event presents new McGill students with the chance to get to know new people and the city through a series of planned activities, including playing board games, dancing, a warm beverage party and—a notable favourite from last year—a trip to Fête des Neiges at Jean-Drapeau Park.

“The original vision behind Defrosh, two years ago, [was] we saw that there wasn’t any frosh welcoming students,” Rachel Lin, head coordinator of Defrosh, said. “We wanted to give new students and international students a chance to explore Montreal and make friends and get plugged in to a community. The same opportunities frosh people in the Fall semester have.”

Rachel estimates that there are roughly 200 students who begin university at McGill each Winter, most of whom are international or on exchange. They are given a McGill orientation and have resources to help them get settled, but Rachel says there is a lack of resources from a social perspective. While Winter semester events such as Carnival allow returning students to cut loose as they ease back into their school routine, new students are—for the most part— left out in the cold at the start of the semester.

“When you come in the Winter it’s kind of unnoticed,” Rachel said. “If you’re new [in the fall], normally everyone is trying to know each other and make friends, but in the Winter people already have their community so they’re not as eager to go out and make friends [….] There are events to help you explore, but it’s hard to seek out each event, and try to put yourself out there doing it alone.”

Despite the original vision as an event for incoming students in the winter, they only represent the minority of participants. Rather, the majority of those taking part are first-year students, many of whom did Fish Frosh in the Fall. This was the case for U1 Nursingstudent Maggie Lin, who participated last year and intends to volunteer this year.

“I found that last year was really helpful,” Msggie said. “This year I kind of wanted to serve the new people and first-years as well [….] I received a lot of love and care, and I want to do that in return.”

Defrosh also sets itself apart from other frosh-like events. Unlike some of the other January events— that revolve around the consumption of alcohol—Defrosh is a dry event.

“Being able to build relationships that last, even after you graduate, is really important,” Rachel said. “When there is alcohol, it becomes the main thing and that’s why [students] come. We want to offer something more, for people to actually talk.”

Maggie noted that the alcohol-free nature of the event provided a more inviting social setting.

“I don’t drink a lot,” she said. “This would be a great way for students that don’t enjoy drinking that much to still feel comfortable.”

Saturday also includes a planned worship night, where students can pray and worship together, and a church swap where students can attend different churches together. While the spiritual aspects could be perceived as exclusionary, Rachel maintains that they can serve as a means of getting to know other students. She stresses that everyone is welcome regardless of their belief system.

“We want to open it up to all new students […] but letting them know that there are events like worship night and church swap,” Rachel said. “The point is to get to know each other, and just make friends and relationships that last throughout the entire year.”

This year, Rachel expects approximately 80 students to participate in Defrosh. She said she would like to see Defrosh expand in future years.However, unlike Frosh in the fall, advertising and publicity have presented major challenges. Currently, Defrosh organizers primarily hand out fliers and speak to students at winter orientation as well as advertising through social media and listservs.

“I can see it becoming really valuable for new students,” Rachel said. “The goal is for having them know about it, whether they come or not. Even that goal, if every single student knew that there were people that wanted to welcome them in, that would be really cool.”

Defrosh runs Jan. 17-19. Registration is $10. See http://justinezed.wix.com/fishfrosh#!defrosh-2014 for details.