A few weeks ago, my partner and I listened to an episode of the podcast Hidden Brain about a phenomenon called summer melt. Summer melt is what happens when a student who has matriculated at a university fails to make it to the first day. They “melt” away in the summer because their finances fell through, or their plans changed, or other reasons that may or may not have been in their control. And in the weeks between listening to that episode and leaving for Iowa, I had summer melt on the brain. Constantly.
Summer melt felt like a real possibility for me. I feared that I wouldn’t pack in time, or I wouldn’t be able to afford the relocation, or that there was a mistake and my acceptance had been revoked. I feared that I would end up putting so much time and effort into something that just wouldn’t work. It kept me up at night. It made it harder to actually accomplish the things that needed to get done. But gradually, once I was no longer working full-time, once I packed up my bookcases, once I booked my flight, once I paid my university bill, once I made a number of incremental steps towards the start of the semester, the fear of summer melt faded.
Yesterday was the first official day of classes at Iowa State University, but the luck of my schedule meant that I didn’t have any classes to attend. And today I only had one class, a seminar on sustainable agriculture. Having made it to and through my first class, I finally feel like the fear is gone altogether.
I don’t remember fearing summer melt when I was going into my undergraduate years. Maybe it was because I didn’t know about it, so ignorance kept me from fixating on it too much. Maybe it was because my younger self felt more invincible, more invulnerable, and I didn’t think about the things that could go wrong as much as I think about those things now. Maybe it was because I had seen my siblings start their college careers, been with them from move in day through to their graduations, before I had to start that process myself. Or maybe it was because I had spent a few days in New York for an orientation session over the summer before the semester started. Maybe the three days of orientation, enough to get me to fall in love with the city, gave me the confidence I needed to get my act together and make it to the fall.
Whatever the reason, eight years ago, I didn’t fear summer melt. Instead, I only suffered from anticipation, impatient to start my first semester at college.
During the final few months of living in New York City, it took an enormous amount of energy to be able to see the city with the same level of optimism, the same feverish pursuit, that same kind of love that my eighteen-year-old self had. Much of that had transferred to my graduate program, even though I hadn’t visited the college or really knew what I was getting myself into by going to graduate school. My prediction is that in three years, or six years, or another eight years, when I’ve earned my degree and am making the next big leap in my life, I’ll have that same feeling of wanting to catapult myself into the future.
And I’m sure I’ll fear melting again.