Armenia

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

At your pre-departure orientation (staging), you will be given a temporary mailing address to use during pre-service training. After you are sworn in as a Volunteer, you will be able to receive packages at your site.

Telephones

Service through the three major carriers is available in most parts of the country, and many Volunteers use Internet calling services such as Skype or Yahoo Messenger to call the U.S.

Advise your family that in an emergency they should contact the Counseling and Outreach Unit in Washington, D.C., which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free number is 855.855.1961 ext. 1470. The direct number is 202.692.1470. This office will then immediately contact Peace Corps/Armenia.

Internet

Access is widely available except for in remote areas. Post staff recommends you bring your laptop, tablet, or iPad to use at work and for communication. All cellphone carriers provide 3G network service, which you can use via locally available USB Internet modems to access the Internet where there is coverage. Those who have unlocked smartphones or other devices can purchase SIM cards to access the internet.

Housing and Site Location

After PST, at your permanent site, you will be assigned to live with a host family again for three months. The benefits of living with a host family include full immersion into Armenian life, language, and culture; community integration; and having a place to call home. Being a respected and equal member of a family not only provides strong personal and professional rewards, it can ensure your safety and security as well. Some living arrangements may be apartments or separate detached houses; some may have European-style bathrooms, while others might use outhouses. Regardless of the situation, trainees and Volunteers live as the members of their community do. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before a Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement is appropriate and safe, and that housing and worksites are secure. Site selection is based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; housing options and living arrangements; and other Volunteer support needs.

Living Allowance and Money Management

Costs to live with your host family will be part of your living allowance and will be discussed during your pre-service training. Living-allowance costs are reviewed annually. Volunteers are also reimbursed for continuing language study. Reimbursements to Volunteers are made monthly upon presentation of a completed tutor reimbursement form. Volunteers are provided allowances for annual leave (vacation) expenses, which are included with the payment of the monthly living allowance. If you are asked by the Peace Corps to travel for official, medical, or programmatic reasons, you will be reimbursed for transportation and lodging. The Peace Corps helps Volunteers set up bank accounts in local currency and deposits all the allowances and other payments into these bank accounts. Volunteers can set up personal accounts in dollars if they choose. Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Armenia with these allowances. Consistent with the philosophy that development and learning are most effectively achieved when people live and work together, it is important that Volunteers live at the same standard as the people whom they serve. Nevertheless, many Volunteers bring extra money (in cash, traveler’s checks, or credit cards) for vacations. Credit cards can be used in some restaurants, hotels, large stores in the capital, and are handy for travel outside the country. Credit cards, as well as regular bank ATM/debit cards, can be used at ATMs in Yerevan and other large cities around the country to obtain cash (in drams). Retail outfits in Armenia do not accept traveler’s checks, so they aren’t recommended for use in-country.

Food and Diet

Typical meals include potatoes, pasta, rice, and meat. Bread also plays a key role with all the meals. Cheese is a big part of the diet. Greens are very common in spring whereas a good variety of vegetables is typical for summer and fall. The best fresh vegetables and fruits are available during the summer. The apricots and tomatoes are of extremely high quality. During the long winter months, cabbage, beets, and potatoes are mainstays. It is possible but difficult for vegetarians to maintain a meatless diet. Although your refusal to eat meat may seem strange to your host family, they are likely to respect your decision and accommodate your needs accordingly. With a little planning, you should be able to maintain a healthy alternative diet. Typical drinks are tan (made of yogurt, water, and salt), homemade fruit juices, Armenian and Georgian wine, and Armenian brandy and vodka. Armenians are noted for their endless toasts, but you should not feel compelled to drink a large quantity of alcohol just to appease your host. Armenians admire self-control, and most will respect your decision to drink moderately or not at all.

Transportation

Volunteers travel in the country in public buses, vans, or taxis. The Peace Corps prohibits all Volunteers from owning or driving vehicles of any type, including scooters, mopeds, and motorcycles. Volunteers must wear a helmet when biking. Violation of this policy will result in termination of your Volunteer service.

Social Activities

On weekends and in the evening, Armenians generally socialize with their families and friends. In summer months, in some of the larger cities throughout Armenia, sidewalk cafes appear on every corner and in every shady spot. Armenians enjoy relaxing at these cafes late into the evening. In smaller towns and villages, activities tend to focus on spending time with extended family, neighbors, and friends. Socializing typically includes lots of coffee drinking. Chess and backgammon (called nardi) are popular, and Armenian boys and girls play basketball, soccer, tennis, badminton, and pingpong. In addition to participating in these activities, Volunteers enjoy hiking and exploring local historical sites.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

In general, Armenians tend to be conservative in both dress and behavior. You will be serving as a representative of the Peace Corps and will be expected to dress and behave accordingly. While you may see people dressed in seemingly worn or shabby clothes, this is because of economics rather than by choice. The likelihood is that they are wearing their best clothes. A foreigner who wears ragged, unmended clothing is likely to be considered an affront. For men, professional dress calls for collared shirts, slacks, and occasionally suit jackets and ties. For women, professional dress calls for dresses or skirts (knee- or mid-calf length), modest blouses or tops, and dress slacks. Women should be prepared to occasionally wear suits or formal wear for presentations or other business-related events. Volunteers need to continually strive to maintain neat and clean clothing and hair. Facial piercings on both men and women and earrings on men are generally unacceptable in professional settings in Armenia. Throughout the countries of the former Soviet Union, tattoos have a negative connotation and historically have been associated with the mafia, prisoners, and prostitutes. Please be prepared to cover tattoos whenever possible.