Until you have your own address, you can receive mail at Peace Corps/Ecuador’s post office box:
“Your Name,” PCT
Cuerpo de Paz Casilla 17-08-8624
Quito, Ecuador, South America
It takes from a week to 10 days for a letter from the United States to reach the Peace Corps office. Once you are living at your assigned site, mail may take 2-4 weeks to reach you. All packages go through Ecuadorian customs and you may have to make a special trip to Quito to pick up the package. All packages are opened by customs, and there is usually a significant customs charge. Using packing envelopes that would be difficult to rip open is highly recommended.
Basic cellphones are assigned during the first few weeks of training, and you will be provided with a small stipend in order to purchase a calling/data plan or add prepaid credit to your cellular account. Many Invitees choose to bring their smartphones from the US. If you bring a phone, please make sure it is an unlocked GSM phone. We recommend insuring your phone before leaving home.
Many Volunteers in Ecuador have internet access, although there are some remote sites where this access is limited. Ecuador is also well supplied with internet cafes, and computers are available for Volunteers to use at the Peace Corps office in Quito. Please keep in mind that you will be very busy during pre-service training with training activities, community integration, and spending time with your host family. You may want to let your friends and family know that you will not be as “connected” as you are in the U.S. We strongly recommend that you insure any devices you decide to bring, such as laptops or tablets.
Housing and Site Location
Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. For this, credit and debit cards are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. For this, credit cards are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
Food and Diet
The diet in Ecuador is varied. You will have the chance to sample a vast array of fruits and vegetables, and we encourage you to experiment and try everything, including guinea pig, cow stomach, and blood soup. While living with your host family in training and for your initial months at site, you will eat the typical fare of the family. Most Ecuadorians eat a light breakfast, a large midday meal, and a lighter dinner. White rice accompanies most meals. On the coast, seafood is a staple, in addition to plantains. In the highlands, potatoes and corn are more commonly eaten. Yuca (cassava) and chicha (a drink made from yuca) are staples in the diet of the Amazon. On the whole, food is not spicy, but meals are often accompanied by hot sauce called “ají.” The diet tends to be high in carbohydrates, and foods are more often fried than baked. For the most part, vegetarians do not have a hard time meeting their dietary needs. Dried grains and beans, quinoa, eggs, and dairy products are commonly available throughout the country, but specialty items like tofu and peanut butter may only be available in larger cities. Peanuts, walnuts, and other nuts and seeds are often available, but they tend to be expensive.
Your job may require occasional or frequent travel within the area where you are assigned. Although you may be able to travel in your host agency’s vehicle, riding a bicycle or walking are often the only ways to reach small communities. You will likely use crowded public buses for travel within cities or for long-distance travel between cities. A number of reliable bus lines with modern equipment run throughout the country. Travel at night is permitted but strongly discouraged. Nighttime travel is limited to direct, nonstop intercity buses. Plane travel for medical emergencies and unusual circumstances may be approved by senior staff on a case-by-case basis. Strikes and protests are common, and roads may be blockaded for days or weeks at a time. As long as Volunteers stay away from the strike lines and do not attempt to cross them, they should not be affected. However, this may limit Internet and mail access for a short period of time if Volunteers need to travel to other cities for these services. Volunteers are not authorized to operate any type of motorized vehicle in Ecuador, and motorcycle riding (as a driver or passenger) is expressly prohibited.
Ecuadorian entertainment, especially in small towns, often centers on drinking, dancing, and talking. Movies are also popular in Ecuador, although recent releases from the United States (with Spanish subtitles) are usually delayed by several months. Large towns usually have at least one movie theater, and many also have DVD stores. Small cities may have public libraries, and cultural activities may be offered at the local Casa de la Cultura. Many Ecuadorians love music and love to dance, and many Volunteers enjoy learning salsa, cumbia, and merengue from Ecuadorian friends. Ecuadorians generally spend part of their free time with their families in family get-togethers or trips. Radio stations play a variety of music, including some American rock and pop. Many Volunteers make their own music, bringing or purchasing a guitar, violin, flute, harmonica, or other instrument. Ecuadorian craftsmen make quality guitars that are inexpensive. Sports are also very popular in Ecuador, especially soccer, basketball, and volleyball. Volunteers will have many opportunities to play sports informally in their communities, and occasionally, Volunteers even coach or play on local teams. Many Volunteers spend a lot of time reading. Volunteers who learn Spanish well enough will find many books and magazines available. The Peace Corps office has an extensive library, and Volunteers often trade books with one another.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Ecuadorians are generally well dressed, especially in the workplace. Your community is likely to hold you to higher standards because you are a Peace Corps Volunteer. Dressing appropriately can enhance your credibility, since it reflects your respect for the customs and expectations of the people with whom you live and work. Inappropriate dress, like inappropriate behavior, is something that can set you unnecessarily apart from your community.
During pre-service training you are expected to dress as you would on the job. When you visit the Peace Corps office or a counterpart agency office, you should wear business casual clothing. For such visits, skirts or dress slacks and blouses are appropriate for women, and khakis or chinos and collared shirts are appropriate for men. During training and as a Volunteer there will be occasions, such as the swearing-in ceremony or other formal events, where men will be expected to wear jackets and ties and women will be expected to wear dresses or other formal attire. Women should not wear halter tops, low-cut and/or sheer blouses, miniskirts, or any other attire that could be considered as too revealing. While some Ecuadorian women may wear such items, cultural stereotypes may be exacerbated by revealing attire, potentially leading to unwanted attention or harassment. Ripped or patched jeans, tank tops, flip-flops, sport sandals (Chacos, Tevas, etc.), shorts, and body and facial piercings are unacceptable for men and women during pre-service training and in any office, school, or other professional settings in Ecuador. Earrings are acceptable for women. Long hair on men, unkempt beards, and visible tattoos are not typically seen in the professional work environment.
In Ecuador, one of the ways in which professionalism is observed is through a person’s dress. For better or worse, you will be judged in part by your appearance. Learning to dress appropriately is an important part of the cultural adaptation process