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This freshman's video nails what loneliness in college feels like

She thought college was full of friends and parties, but it wasn't.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

A video made by a Cornell freshman holds a powerful message for anyone who is struggling with the first few months of college.

Emery Bergmann made the video in 2017 for a digital media class homework assignment. It resonated with students across the country — and might point to an area in which parents can help their children prepare better for the transition from home to college.

Bergmann, then 17 and a Fine Arts major from Montclair, New Jersey, was given the challenge to depict a "transformation" for her class. "I knew I would only enjoy making the video if the subject I was showing was something I had strong feelings about," Bergmann told TODAY Parents.

"I had just been talking to an acquaintance about how the college experience we see on the media or understand through stories from friends and family seemed to be a bit of a garnished reality." Bergmann decided to show the truth about her own transition to college, which was not as rosy as she expected. "I thought that my shifting point of view was enough of a transformation, and ran with it from there," she said.

In her resulting video, Bergmann talks about how she assumed that college would mean "I was going to have a million friends, that I was going to be going to parties all the time," but that hasn't been her reality. Instead, she said, she spends a lot of time in her dorm room, and despite everyone telling her "You're going to find your people," she hasn't yet. "Like, where are they?" she asks in the video.

"So often you hear people say that college is the 'best four years of your life,'" Bergmann explained to TODAY Parents. "Whether it be movies, television, or simply just friends and family rehashing old memories, there's this constant impression that once you get to college that you were going to meet some of your best friends, party all the time, and figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life."

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But that is a tall order, Bergmann discovered. "Unfortunately, I didn't realize how all of that comes with time, and it isn't just a switch that flips as soon as I step on campus," she said. "Everyone is figuring themselves out and their place, dealing with the same transition you are. Finding your 'people' is an active process, not something immediate, as I expected it to be."

Social media compounds the feelings of loneliness, Bergmann said in the video, because even though she "knows it is fake," it still looks like everyone is having a great time at college... except her.

The turning point for Bergmann came when her mother, Meredith, wrote her a letter saying Emery has nothing to fear because everyone goes through what she is going through now, and she herself thought about transferring from her college when she was in her first semester. That helped her feel less alone, Bergmann said.

"After receiving the letter from my mom, I had my mini-epiphany and realized how unfair I was being to myself and others, expecting everything to work out perfectly in the first two months," said Bergmann. She believes other parents could help their college-bound children by following her mother's example and telling them about their own experiences and encouraging them to reach out to friends and ask if they feel the same way.

"My mother's letter made me so much more comfortable with being uncomfortable," Bergmann said. "College has a big learning curve, so just being willing to talk openly about your experiences can only help."

Cornell freshman Emery Bergmann, pictured here with her roommate, expected to find "her people" immediately upon stepping onto campus, but she has found it takes time to feel at home and to make friends at college.
Cornell freshman Emery Bergmann, pictured here with her roommate, expected to find "her people" immediately upon stepping onto campus, but she has found it takes time to feel at home and to make friends at college.Emery Bergmann

Another adjustment to college life Bergmann did not expect was all the unstructured time that comes along with being a full-time college student away from home. "Some days, I only have one class, so whatever happens the rest of the day is completely up to me," she said. "Super strange considering every second of my day during high school had been organized and planned. Sometimes I get out of class and just sit in the quad burning time. It's a really strange feeling."

But despite these feelings, Bergmann said she loves her college classes. "The workload is definitely a struggle, but it's the first time I've been able to take classes I want to take and learn about subjects I'm interested in," she said. "That's a huge change from high school, where the curriculum is planned out and the classes are mandatory. I legitimately get excited for class — so dorky, I know — but that's a really different feeling than what I've had in the past."

And the overwhelming response from friends and fellow students who have told Bergmann they identified with the video has brought her a lot of comfort. In this case, social media has been able to help her feel less alone in the end.

This story was originally published in 2017.