Leaving home for college is often one of the most important and exciting moments in a young adult’s life. But why is nobody talking about the fact that sometimes that transition is also just *really* hard? Late last year, Emery Bergman inadvertently did just that by posting a YouTube video in which she gets real about feeling lonely during her first semester at Cornell University. Now at the close of her freshman year, Bergman reflects on her first year away from home and what’s changed since she posted that viral video back in October.
My parents met in college and the rest of my extended family is really into their respective universities. In my experience, when adults ask you about college, it often turns into them reminiscing about their own college memories. Their college stories led me to high expectations for my own experience. I assumed I would feel the same enthusiasm for my university once I made the transition, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
My build-up to my college started during my sophomore year of high school, and was followed with endless badgering about AP classes, SAT and ACT prep, and refining my application list. I had a rocky application process. I was rejected from my early decision school and really had to rethink what I wanted out of my college experience. I got into Cornell off the waitlist (relatively late as well), so by the time my first semester came around, I already felt out of place.
I had no idea what to expect. What kind of people would I meet? How would I fare in such a high-intensity environment? I’m a fine arts major and a massive goofball — not exactly the norm at Cornell.
All of these factors became rather overwhelming throughout my first semester. For a while, I didn’t know if I would ever find my place or my people at my new school. Since I'd had the same social circle since freshman year of high school, I was pretty rusty at the whole “making new friends” thing, and I immediately felt lost and frustrated. It felt like people around me were making friends so easily, while I couldn’t get past the “Where are you from?” stage. I didn’t totally get along with a lot of people I met, and the surface-level exchanges left me feeling homesick for the relationships I was already missing.
I started to spent a lot of my time on social media first semester, but after a while, I realized it only made me feel worse. Seeing pictures and videos of my friends from home having a blast with their new college friends led to me feeling down on myself. I immediately compared what I saw on social media to my own situation and felt like even more of an outcast. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. How was it that everyone I knew seemed to be doing just fine but I couldn’t find my place?
I decided to translate my frustration into art and made a video highlighting everything I was feeling. While I’d originally created it just for homework, after I put it on YouTube, it went viral with more than 230,000 views. Soon, I started receiving messages from all of my friends from home as well as random students all over the country who told me they felt the same exact way. Not only did it help me feel less alone, it also made me realize that I had unfair expectations of what my college transition would be like.
Hoping that I would magically click with every person I met was unrealistic. Expecting my college social life to be instantly perfect was unrealistic. I came to understand that making friends is an active process. It really requires you to go out of your way to initiate interactions over a long period of time, and that's okay.
Slowly but surely, I became closer with those around me. I started connecting with people who lived in my dorm and students in my major. By the end of my first semester, I really felt as though I’d formed some budding friendships, but I knew there was still room to grow.
When second semester came around, so did Greek life’s “rush” week. I always thought sororities were shallow and superficial and that they pit women against each other rather than uniting them. But my mom had been part of Greek life and was really passionate about me at least trying it out.
Overall, I didn’t enjoy rush. It was heartbreaking to watch so many girls struggle with rejection. But now, I totally enjoy being part of a sorority. I’ve met a ton of girls whom I greatly admire and respect. It’s incredible to be surrounded by so many inspiring women, and the support network my sorority has created for me has really been the missing piece in my college experience. It also makes my social life incredibly organized. Having planned social events makes it so easy for me to interact with new people on campus, and forces me to get out more.
As a result, I began taking more initiative on campus and am now active in programs that work to prepare pre-freshman students for their own transitions to campus. Finishing my first year, I’m grateful that I ended up at Cornell. Leaving for summer was much harder than I anticipated, and I couldn’t be more excited to come back next year.