Bata Library in the winter. Photo via TrentU.ca.

January: the Monday morning of months. A time when the weather matches one’s inside thoughts and emotions in an act of pathetic fallacy which would make any Romantic blush. It is during this cold, often miserable, month that the students of Trent University eagerly return from their three-week hibernation period, ready to exchange the heightened state of stress and melancholy brought on by family-based activity for a more familiar, academically-based state of anxiety. Coming back to the city in droves, the student populace returns to their respective places of nesting and prepare for yet another period of mental stimulation from which there are few survivors.

The students return, and the city of Peterborough is brought back to life. The pubs, clubs, and shops become overrun by this migratory phenomenon. Trent students regale each other with stories from their holiday absence. I was lucky enough to get up close and personal with several students as they recounted their struggles of returning to civilian life over the holidays:

Scott, 22, from Barrie, gave a stirring account of his coping mechanisms when faced with the regressive views on immigration being spewed by an embarrassingly significant portion of his extended family during Christmas dinner.

“They… They just kept shouting about Sharia law and started chanting ‘ass-im-il-ate, ass-im-il-ate’ over and over again – a few of them started screeching and waving yellow traffic vests,” says Scott, staring blankly into a Rye and Coke, routinely swirling the wedge of lime around the small glass before sighing despondently. “I left the table and went to where my six and seven year-old cousins were eating, I just kept drinking these and watched them do those stupid Fortnite dances.”

A single tear crept from his left eye. “I’m just glad to be back in a town that doesn’t feel so hate crime-y.” He takes a depressingly long gulp of his drink.

Anik, 20, brash, well-dressed, and seemingly feeling at home in the Electric City, described to me her experiences after having made the mistake of sifting through dating apps in her hometown of Scarborough, Ontario while we were standing on the curb outside of the pub.

“It was partly curiosity, but mainly a dumb mistake made out of sheer boredom,” she says, taking a courageously long drag of her cigarette and looking at the bright lights of her adopted home. “I just started swiping, and before I knew it, I was bombarded with matches and often sexually aggressive messages from people who used to tease me relentlessly in high school.”

She throws her dart onto the sidewalk and stamps it into the pavement. “One of them – Tom – was a horrible person to me back then, but he just blatantly stated that we should ‘totally catch up’ while I was in town. He works full-time at the Gas Station in town, had just broken up with his girlfriend who is in grade 11, and shares conspiracy theories about the ‘liberal media’ on Facebook.”

She gestures for us to return to our drinks in the pub. “I mean, yeah, I know I definitely got more attractive since high school, but to get messages from people like that is just distressing. I’m glad I didn’t get pigeonholed into never leaving that miserable place.”

Lauren, 21, gave a significantly less bleak account of their interactions back home in Beeton.

“Well, as far as home life goes, my immediate family is tragically working-class, so we’re completely comfortable not displaying emotion or attachment towards each other, but also breathtakingly secular, so the holiday season is usually pretty neutral ground for me,” they explain as we sit on the swings at the playground on Simcoe and Bethune streets, just west of the downtown strip. “So I had no real obligation to spend all of my time doing emotionally exhaustive family pandering.”

As we get out of the increasingly tangled swings they turn to me, displaying a cheesy grin on an otherwise exhausted looking face: “It’s good to be back in a town with more than two places to hang out with friends. Small town life absolutely wears you out once you have a taste of the big city.” They gesture vaguely at the lights of Peterborough. I think they’re being sarcastic.

And lo, the survivors of this semi-annual great migration return to their seasonal herds, ready and willing to develop their minds for the next few months; the once barren city of Peterborough comes alight with laughter, tears and the constant hustle and bustle of youthful wonder and bliss. What will the future have in store for these students? All signs seem to point towards a significant increase in stress-eating, poorly timed wild nights out, and time spent complaining about every aspect of student life at Trent University.