Diversity and Inclusion
The Peace Corps seeks to reflect the rich diversity of the U.S. and bring diverse perspectives and solutions to development issues in the countries we serve. For the Peace Corps, diversity is a collection of individual attributes that together help the agency pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively. These include national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures. Diversity also encompass where people are from, where they have lived, and their differences of thought and life experiences.
We also seek to create inclusion—a culture that connects each staff and Volunteers to the organization; encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness; and leverages diversity throughout the organization so that all individuals are able to participate and contribute to their full potential—throughout the Volunteer and staff lifecycle.
Diversity and Inclusion at Your Site
Once Volunteers arrive at their sites, diversity and inclusion principles remain the same but take on a different shape, in which your host community may share a common culture and you—the Volunteer—are the outsider. You may be in the minority, if not the sole American like you, at your site. You will begin to notice diversity in perspectives, ethnicity, age, depth of conversation, and degree of support you may receive—and may need to make adjustments. During pre-service training, a session will be held to discuss diversity and inclusion and how you can transcend differences, find common ground, and serve as an ally for your peers.
The Peace Corps emphasizes professional behavior and cross-cultural sensitivity among Volunteers and within their communities to help integration and achieve successful service. As a Volunteer and representative of the United States, you are responsible both for sharing the diversity of U.S. culture (yours and other Americans’) with your host country national counterparts, and also for learning from your host country’s diversity.
To ease the transition to life in your host country, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental, compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual, and will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these limitations. During pre-service training, staff will provide training on how to adapt personal choices and behavior to be respectful of the host country culture, and will be available for ongoing support.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
It will be important to absorb and to attempt to understand the cultural nuances of gender roles in your host country. During pre-service training, you will receive an introduction to gender awareness in-country, and will take time to examine your own thinking about gender roles and how they have impacted you. You’ll then learn to analyze development projects using a gender lens to better understand gender roles in your host country and how these gender roles can benefit or limit what females and males may or may not do—both from a personal standpoint and in relation to work and relationships in-country.
Gender stereotypes are much more evident and accepted in Albania than in the United States. By tradition, women are expected to cook and to look after the needs of their husbands and children even if they work outside the home. Albanian women lead much more restrictive lives than American women do. Women do not go out alone at night, and jogging or walking alone for exercise is uncommon. Outside of downtown Tirana and in the larger city centers, women almost never smoke or drink alcohol in public. Young women are sometimes verbally harassed by groups of men in the streets, and looking foreign or walking alone on the street will heighten the likelihood that harassment will occur. Your adjustment to Albanian customs will be difficult and frustrating at times, but you will likely need to modify your behavior to avoid compromising yourself and your host family.
Skin Color / Ethnicity
Because of limited exposure, some foreign nationals will expect all U.S. citizens to be white, and are unaware of diversity in the U.S. For Volunteers, the range of responses to their skin color may vary greatly: from being mistaken for a host country national to being questioned about their U.S. citizenship, to facing behavior and language skill expectations or ridicule, to being able to get better prices for goods and services. These instances can be turned into teachable moments for the Volunteer and the host country national. All Volunteers, including white Volunteers and those of color, should be mindful of the issues of race/ethnicity that are embedded in U.S. culture and within your country of service, and should be mindful of being an ally to your fellow Volunteers.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
There are very few people of color in Albania, and many Albanians have never met anyone of color. Some older Albanians may have met Chinese technicians and workers in the 1960s and ’70s, when Albania was aligned with China. They may have unpleasant memories from that period. Although there are currently foreigners from a variety of countries and races in Tirana, there are very few people of color in the smaller towns and rural communities. Many Albanians will not know what to make of a person of color who calls her/himself an American. If you are of African, Hispanic, or Asian descent, you will probably be the only such person in your community.
Possible Issues for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Ally (LGBTQA) Volunteers
The Peace Corps actively supports Volunteers and staff of all genders and sexual orientations, and encourages Volunteers to serve as allies to their fellow Volunteers in all aspects. Many countries where the Peace Corps serves have more restrictive cultures with regard to sexual orientation and non-conforming gender identities, though some are more permissive. In every country, Peace Corps staff will work with Volunteers to provide them with locally informed perspectives. Some LGBTQ Volunteers have chosen to come out to community members, with a result of positive and negative reactions, while some have come out only to select Peace Corps staff and Volunteers. Many have chosen to be discreet about their orientation and/or gender identity within their host community.
LGBTQA support groups may be available in-country, providing a network to support the needs of the Peace Corps LGBTQA community. More information about serving as an LGBTQ Volunteer is available at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Peace Corps Alumni website at lgbrpcv.org.
Though not illegal, Albania has a homophobic culture, and many Albanians view same-sex relationships as immoral. The gay and lesbian community in Albania is deeply underground. Being sensible and extremely cautious about revealing one’s sexual orientation in one’s home, workplace, and community is advisable.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
Peace Corps staff will work with disabled Volunteers to support them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
As a disabled Volunteer in Albania, you will face a special set of challenges. People with disabilities are often kept out of public view in Albania, and there is very little infrastructure to accommodate those with disabilities. There are no ramps in public places, and roads and sidewalks are uneven or otherwise in poor condition. Traffic throughout the country is chaotic. Nevertheless, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable of performing a full tour of Volunteer service in Albania without unreasonable risk to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Albania will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, and job sites to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
Possible Issues for Volunteer Couples
Couples often face pressure from people in their host communities to change their roles to conform better with traditional relationships in-country. Some host community members may not have had exposure to American relationship dynamics and may question relationships that do not adhere to traditional gender roles. It is also helpful to think about how pressures to conform to local culture can be challenging to men and women in very different ways. Considering how your partner is being affected and discussing what, if any, aspects of your relationship should be adjusted can help reduce stress for you both.
During Pre-Service Training (PST), couples will be placed in separate host families, allowing them to study language independently, train with peers from their own programmatic sector, and grow and develop individually before joining their partner once PST is complete. They will have a few weekend visits to meet each other’s host families and spend time together, but mostly will be apart during PST. Couples should come prepared with strategies on communication and support during this time. After swearing-in when Volunteers are moved to their permanent sites, they will be placed together with the same host family.
Couples may face challenges stemming from traditional Albanian gender roles. A female spouse/partner may find herself the object of attention among Albanian women, who may wonder whether she is taking proper care of her partner, or can cook and preserve enough vegetables for the winter. While women in Albania may be expected to do all the domestic chores, the men may be expected to assume an overtly dominant role in the household. In addition, the independence exercised by each member of an American couple may be unfamiliar to Albanians. On the other hand, Albanians generally value marriage and Volunteer couples can expect a lot of support from the Albanian community. To date, couples have generally served effectively in Albania.
Possible Issues for 50+ Volunteers
Older Volunteers may find their age an asset in-country and will often have access to individuals and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers. But, pre-service training can be particularly stressful for older trainees, whose lifelong learning styles and habits may or may not lend themselves to the techniques used. A 50+ individual may be the only older person in a group of Volunteers and initially may not feel part of the group. Some 50+ Volunteers may find it difficult to adapt to a lack of structure and clarity in their role after having worked for many years in a very structured and demanding job. More than younger Volunteers, older Volunteers may have challenges in maintaining lifelong friendships and may want to consider assigning power of attorney to someone in the States to deal with financial matters.
Respect comes with age in Albania. Older people in Albania generally are less active than older people in the U.S., and your Albanian friends may assume that you would rather stay home than socialize. You may also feel isolated within the Peace Corps community because its likely that most Volunteers will be in their 20s.