“Re-Entry Shock” is a Thing

With similar emotions to Culture Shock, people don’t really talk about Re-Entry Shock, but I think 2021+ will have a lot of parallels as people go back to work, start to travel again, become more nomadic and work from anywhere. I predict people trying to get “back to normal” post COVID19 will also experience similar emotions.

Similar to striving for “normal” post COVID, going from this life to crowded cities, traffic, and 24/7 news cycles produces anxiety

Culture Shock is a sense of anxiety, depression, or confusion that results from being cut off from your familiar culture, environment, and norms when living in a foreign country or society. Those experiencing culture shock go through distinct phases of euphoria, discomfort, adjustment, and acceptance. 

In reverse, when living for long periods outside of your home country, it’s likely you’ll feel the same in similar ways. Having experienced both Culture and Re-Entry Shock, I think the latter is MUCH harder to accept because it seems unnecessary or manufactured.

I mean, you’re going “home”, right? or you’re getting back to your “normal life”? Why and how should that be harder than experiencing a whole new country, language, currency and culture? But for me, and I think many others, it is. It feels like I no longer have a country. It feels like I don’t belong really anywhere. It feels like I’m straddling two worlds, and no one (but others in the exact same position) understands it. This feels isolating, scary and unsettling. 

We have been back in the USA for a few weeks now, and while I was excited to get back, get our vaccines, and also spend quality time to see family and friends, I knew to expect a less than glorious landing. And, so it is.

I’ve experienced Culture Shock many times in my life. It can be exhilarating, debilitating and annoying. Re-entry Shock feels worse. 

When I first moved to Turkey in 1988, I was hit hard with culture shock. Although I felt prepared for it, it was surprising just how much of a roller coaster of emotions I experienced before settling in and adapting. After a couple of years there, I returned back to the USA, and the “re-entry shock” was harder than the original culture shock. I needed a cultural de-brief. I missed many pop culture references, didn’t see movies people were talking about, and I had bizarre interactions that made me feel like a fish out of water. Although I could speak my native language, I felt awkward contributing to conversations.

Tackling Re-Entry Shock can feel overwhelming

Fast forward to today, living in Mexico and Turkey most of the year, getting back to the USA (during a pandemic, no less) hasn’t been easy, and I have been fighting the realization that I’m going through a major adjustment. I have been irritable, impatient, easily annoyed and really missing my life abroad. Conversations abroad somehow seem more stimulating – discussing global ideas and challenges, providing broader points of view and perspectives on the world and the citizens in it. Getting back to the USA feels stagnant, revisiting the same small conversations and discussing silly TV programs or talking about how “hard” someone’s life is in the USA when they have absolutely everything they could possibly want or need. Let’s not even begin to discuss politics….

So, I decided to dig into what’s really happening, and similar to grief, re-entry shock has stages. 

The myths around returning to your home country are similar: 1) that “home” will be recognizable and easy to merge back into, 2) that family and friends will be interested in what you’ve done (or even care about all you’ve gone through), 3) that you’ll feel “at home”, 4) that the skills you learned abroad are actually welcome in your home country, 4) that because it’s familiar, it will be easier, and 5) that you won’t miss your friends abroad as you see your familiar friends and family back home.

Surrounding yourself with familiar things from your life abroad, taking it slow, breathing, getting outside, and turning off the TV can help immensely, but we aren’t out of the woods just yet. I predict I have another 60+ days to fully adapt. Just in time for us to leave the country and experience it all over again.

For more reading on this topic, this article was extremely helpful. https://horizonunknown.com/5-stages-culture-shock-how-to-overcome/

Diving the Fang Ming

Scuba gear drying on the deck of Lodos

Snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez is usually so great that there isn’t much motivation to scuba dive (other than to clean the hull of the boat!), but this past week, we did a great wreck dive that we’ve been wanting to do since we arrived in Mexico.

The Fang Ming is important to Mexico as it was the first intentionally sunken ship to create an artificial reef in all of Latin America. This ship has a happy ending, but a sad tale overall.

The Fang Ming was a 180′ Chinese fishing vessel that was seized by authorities after discovering that they were smuggling almost 100 Chinese migrant workers trying to reach the USA. There were 88 men and 7 women kept aboard this very confined space. Everyone was rescued, processed in the USA and eventually returned to China; it was sunk in November of 1999 and currently sits in 65′ of water.

We anchored just north around the corner at Ensenada de Gallina and took our dinghy to the dive site.

Sunset from Ensenada de Gallina – looking towards the dive site

It’s marked with a yellow buoy, which isn’t attached to the ship, so it’s a bit confusing if you dive it alone. You have to follow the buoy line down and travel south on the bottom for another 40′ or so until you reach the hulking shadow of the ship.

Today, the ship is host to an abundance of wildlife, and there are cool swim throughs and dark corners to explore. It’s in remarkably good condition.

On the day we dove it, we were the only ones there, and we were going to anchor our dinghy near by, but the water was rough, and our dinghy anchor wasn’t holding in the sandy bottom (we likely need some chain rode for our dink anchor), so we just tied off to the buoy on the surface. We saw 8 large Loggerhead and Olive Ridley turtles, parrot fish, box fish, puffer fish, wrasse, hog fish, trigger fish, grunts, angel fish, grouper, jacks and more!

Coming up was a bit of a challenge because the visibility was only about 25 feet, and we overshot our dinghy location, so we had to swim a ways back, but it was a fun afternoon adventure!

Video of our isolated and private anchorage

TRUST YOUR GUT Keep Calm & Sail On

I’ve always said that intuition was born of wisdom, and this couldn’t be more true in these days. While most of our friends and family are in quarantine in the USA, navigating the frustrations and heartbreak of this new life, we also have unique challenges being in another country, out on the sea.

We deliberately left corporate jobs, sold companies, sold our house, downsized, started new digital nomad careers, and sailed away – relying on a retirement portfolio and new reduced income streams to fund our new way of life. We don’t have any regrets, but it’s created a new host of uncertainties we hadn’t expected. In truth, I was worried about the following things happening when we took off two years ago – two of which have already happened:

  1. A rogue wave
  2. Getting caught in a hurricane
  3. Boat breaking down in the middle of the ocean (happened twice)
  4. Hitting a whale (already happened) 

We certainly didn’t have Zombie Apocalypse on our global Bingo card!

Like most natural and human made emergencies, nothing is a problem….until it is. Mexico was late coming to the emergency of COVID19 and still is pretty sleepy compared to many other parts of the USA and the world right now, but if you believe it’s coming, then you have to prepare. And, while we have it pretty good on a house that moves (our sailboat), there are still many restrictions that limit our mobility.

social distancing
Social Distancing at Marina Palmira w/ friends aboard Agave Azul

In the past 48 hours, Mexico has locked down whole cities and towns, making it impossible to go in and out unless you can prove residency. They have made it illegal to do any kind of recreational activity, and this means sailing. Mexico has also locked down national park islands and coves where we normally anchor, and some ports have now made it illegal to enter/exit unless you can prove you are transiting to another port or entering for fuel or provisions. Something that has never happened before. So, we are now locked down in a marina – sailing season is effectively over.

And, this brings me back to trusting your gut. 

When you start to gain knowledge, stay calm and listen to your inner voice, it almost always tells you what to do. I’m not just talking about a Fight or Flight mechanism. I’m talking about what is right for you and when – even if no one else seems to be following your lead. Kirby and I have watched enough pandemic, apocalypse films and TV to know that you must keep moving forward – at all costs. If you stand still or freeze up, you have a greater chance of something worse happening. Yes, I know it’s TV, but I also believe it to be real life, and it’s served us well over the years – even during times of much less strife. 

So, when we decided to leave Puerto Vallarta 2 months earlier than planned (after my trip to Turkey was canceled) to get back to La Paz, where we have our car and a safe marina slip reserved for our boat this summer, we decided to do it. Some people told us we were overreacting, we should wait for a better southern wind weather window, and that it would be fine. Now, just two weeks later, as anchorages and ports are closing, with the coast guard patrolling daily broadcasting warnings, we feel so much better to be snug as a bug in our boat in one of the safest marinas in the southern Baja. If things get a lot worse, we can always jump in our car and drive north or sail north…

The Mexican Coast Guard patrols La Paz waterways and marinas daily with recorded broadcasts to “Quédate en Casa” (Shelter in Place)

Staying and being present is the only way to live right now. A wise friend gave some advice when I start to feel out of control – take these 6 steps:

  1. Breathe deeply for at least 1 minute
  2. Ask yourself: “Am I okay RIGHT NOW?”
  3. Stop negative spiraling thoughts by refocusing your brain on what you see, hear, smell, or taste
  4. Try to live your life and carry on as normally as possible
  5. Empower yourself with knowledge
  6. Be grateful
Making the time to reaquaint ourselves with old passions & hobbies

We are still happy to be on a sailboat looking out at the water, enjoying the sunshine, and watching the sunset, even if we cannot really leave our boat. As long as our internet holds out for us to continue to do work and communicate, we’ll be just fine. And, in the meantime, the wildlife here reminds us that the Earth is healing herself.

Stay Home, Stay Safe!