Thunder Bay

Settling into campus has taken some adjusting, but students say it's welcome after years of pandemic learning

University and College students in Ontario have been back in class for about two months, and for many adjusting to the so-called "new normal" has come with a bit of a learning curve.

Students say return to in-person learning allows them to feel a part of the community

Maricor Ballaret is a pre-health science student at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Submitted by Maricor Ballaret)

Postsecondary students have been back in class for about two months, and for many adjusting to the so-called "new normal" has come with a bit of a learning curve.

Maricor Ballaret is in her second year at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ont. and works to engage with students about wellness through her role with the school's student union. 

At this stage in the school year, being back to in-person learning is making a big difference, especially for international students like herself, she said. 

Ballaret said she had concerns and nerves heading back to in-person learning in September, but so far the first two months of the school year have been positive.

"Having face-to-face classes ... confirms that now I'm here in Canada, I'm here in Thunder Bay," Ballaret said. "Now at least we feel like we're part of the college community now, as we're back face to face." 

New challenges for students have surfaced as they settle into in-person learning routines, such as navigating city transit schedules, she said. 

For the student union at Confederation College, there's also been some adjusting to do when it comes to meeting students where they're at, and engaging with them now that they're back on campus, Ballaret said.

"I think the great challenge for me is how to come up with those activities, like how to listen to the concerns of students, make them aware that the student union is there for them," she said. 

Griffen Fox is a student at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay and plays on the school's hockey team. (Submitted by Kody Anton/Lakehead University )

Across the city, at Lakehead University, Griffen Fox said readjusting schedules has been the biggest challenge, especially as a varsity athlete.

"It's been an adjustment to manage our time that way, just with how busy we are with our schedule … but it's kind of nice to be busy and hold yourself accountable that way," said Fox, who plays on the Lakehead Thunderwolves in Thunder Bay.

For Fox, being back to in-person learning after a year of all online courses has been a welcome change, especially as someone who is new to the city.

"It can be a strain on mental health," he said about online learning. "To just be inside all the time and not be able to socialize, but it was really nice to have 28 or 30 teammates to rely on all the time and hang out with and just be around," he said, adding that the university's athletic department launched a campaign this year to help students focus on wellness.

Across Canada, studies suggest students' mental health has deteriorated in the last two years, as isolation and a global health crisis took a toll on everyone's ability to cope. 

Sixty one per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 24 say their mental health has declined since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

As one mental health outreach worker explained, after spending much of their high school either online or under COVID-19 restrictions, fall transitions may have been particularly challenging this year. 

"Now there's this obviously added layer of we're in-person for the first time in two years and with that can come more feelings of stress and more feelings of being overwhelmed," explained Abby Walker, an outreach worker with Good2Talk mental health services. 

Western University students in London, Ont., play games at a party before the COVID-19 pandemic. These scenes were largely absent during lockdowns and other restrictions. (Geoff Robbins/Canadian Press)

Good2Talk, which provides free anytime services for post-secondary students, sees peak times where their service becomes increasingly busy. Walker said during these times students are often reaching out for support with anxiety, stress, and depression.

"Throughout the year we do see peak times of when students are reaching out and it's usually during those transition times of September, October. Students are back in school and you're taking exams, in a new city and so on," Walker said.

"During these times where your campus supports may be overwhelmed and you know, not have the availability that works for you," she said. 

Good2Talk looks to fill in gaps for students when it comes to on-campus services, by providing a 24-hour helpline, and referring students to community resources.

Walker said she spends a lot of time on university and college campuses in the province as an outreach worker, and has noticed schools are taking student mental health seriously at this stage in the pandemic.

"I think that schools are really understanding that and and are wanting just to offer as many resources as possible to students so that they can kind of choose what's going to be best for them after potentially some trial and error," said Walker.

If you or someone you know is struggling, here are a few options to get help:

  • Good2Talk: 1-866-925-5454 (phone), text GOOD2TALKON to 686868
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat counselling on the website.
  • Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text between 4 p.m. and midnight ET).


Olivia Levesque


Olivia is a Reporter/Editor based in her hometown of Thunder Bay, Ont. She is proud to live and work along the north shore of Lake Superior in Robinson-Superior Treaty Territory. You can contact her by emailing