The day after arriving in Lincoln to start his master’s degree in agronomy and horticulture at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Juan Jiménez woke up Jan. 23 and thought it seemed exceptionally sunny.
He looked outside and was greeted by something he’d never seen before — snow. About 1.5 inches had coated the ground.
“I just opened the door and saw all this white stuff in front of me, and I thought, ‘oh my goodness, what is that?’ and I closed the door. It was so bright.” Jiménez said. “I have to confess, it was a little scary. I had never seen snow before, and I told my roommates, ‘I don’t want to go outside, it’s scary.’
“My roommates said, ‘no man, you have to experience this,’ so we went outside and played in it for a little bit. It was weird to me. It has a different structure in your hands — a sensation that I have never felt in my life.”
But Jiménez was cold. He hadn’t prepared for a Nebraska winter. When he left Colombia a little over a week ago, it was 86 degrees. Temps in Lincoln have hovered in the teens and 20s since he arrived.
“I bought some stuff in Florida, and I was thinking ‘OK, I am ready for this,’ but when I got here, I was so cold that first night,” he said. “The next day, I went directly to Walmart and got a blanket, a coat and boots, because my feet had been wet the whole time.”
Little did Jiménez know, Nebraska had an even bigger surprise in store for him. A historic, record-breaking snowstorm dumped 14.5 inches on Lincoln Jan. 25. It was the second-highest snowfall in a single day in Lincoln, only topped by the 19 inches that fell Feb. 11, 1965, according to stats collected by Ken Dewey, professor emeritus of climatology. Nebraska yearly snowfall averages 25.9 inches.
The storm canceled the first two days of the spring semester, which were slated to be Jimenez’ first on campus. Instead, Jimenez and his roommates made the most of it. The three Huskers spent time talking, cooking, watching movies, checking the snowfall and building a snowman.
“I have one friend from Nicaragua and the other roommate is from Rwanda,” Jiménez said. “We were cooking different dishes for each other. We watched out the window, because there was a fire hydrant that got buried in snow. I wondered if it would reach us on the second floor.”
Jiménez also had to contend with winterizing his car. Before coming to Nebraska, the native of Barranquilla, Colombia, graduated from Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Honduras in 2018, and then completed a yearlong internship with the University of Florida. There, he purchased a car, but put it in storage while he traveled back to Colombia and to the Caribbean region to visit his mother.
“I picked up my car after flying to Florida and drove 26 hours across the United States,” Jiménez said. “In these last three days, I have learned a lot about snow, including for my car. I had to figure out what kind of coolant my car needs and everything.”
Adaptation to environment is something Jiménez thinks about a lot as an agricultural engineer, and he’s keen to adapt to his new home in Nebraska.
“I knew it was going to be a different environment, and when you come to a different place, the worst thing you can do is compare,” he said. “It’s like a penny, heads and tails. One side is bad, but the other side is really good, and you need to see the beauty in everything. That’s my philosophy. I really want to appreciate and enjoy this. I’ve never gotten to experience four seasons.
“Circumstances change. The environment you’re in can change, but the one thing you can control is your attitude. That’s up to you. I came here for a dream and I came here with a lot of passion, and so it makes me really happy to be here.”
Snow aside, Jiménez is itching to get on campus and start his coursework and research in plant breeding at Nebraska.
“I chose this career because one, I can do science and two, I can work with plants, which I love, but third, this career will have a direct impact,” he said. “We can feed the world.”