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Living Conditions in Jamaica

Communications

Mail

Mail from the United States usually takes two to four weeks to arrive. Packages can take from up to six weeks to arrive. During pre-service training, trainees are not allowed to receive mail or packages. Once you become a Volunteer and are at your site, you will have your letters and packages sent directly to your new local/community address.

Telephones

Volunteers are required to maintain a reliable cell phone during service. You are mandated to participate in all Peace Corps Jamaica communication activities, especially those related to your health and safety. Therefore prior to arrival, Trainees are strongly encouraged to arrive with an internationally unlocked LTE compatible smartphone that can accommodate a SIM card. Trainees unable to arrive with an unlocked smartphone will be provided with a phone and handled on an individual basis.

Digicel and FLOW are the two major cell phone in-country providers. On arrival in-country, Peace Corps Jamaica will provide each trainee with a Digicel hybrid SIM card, which is a part of an All Staff/VolunteerClosed User Group (CUG). The SIM card will be loaded with some minutes outside of the CUG and 3KG of data. This will allow for unlimited local monthly text messages. More on this will be provided upon arrival. Additional credit may be purchased at many retail outlets (gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.) throughout the island.

Internet

If you bring a laptop, it is recommended to insure it and bring a power surge protector. Broadband internet service is available in Jamaica and you will likely have the option of choosing from several internet service providers based on your site location. You may also connect your laptop to the Volunteers’ Wi-Fi Internet service at the Peace Corps office. Although most host families during training have WiFi service, some do not and it is not guaranteed you will have WiFi access at your assigned home. This may be a paradigm shift for individuals who are accustomed to constant service; we recommend that you not rely on internet during training, and that you let your friends and family know that your primary focus during this time will be on integration. There are internet cafés available in most cities/towns in Jamaica; however, much of training will be spent in sessions in rural Highgate. The Peace Corps training center has WiFi but it can be inconsistent. All volunteers will have access to WiFi at their 2-year service site, whether it be by using the host families service, purchasing it themselves through their living allowance or traveling to a nearby internet café/community center.

Housing and site location

Being placed at a site involves a lengthy, systematic process in order to ensure safety, security and productivity.

All Volunteers have indoor plumbing, however at times there are interruptions in service. However, the water is usually not heated, so be prepared for the adjustment to cold showers as you gradually become immersed in the Jamaican way of life and work. Laundry is often washed by hand in a sink or washtub.

Electricity exists island wide, except in very remote areas. The electrical system in Jamaica is operates on a 110V supply voltage and 50Hz. Very few Volunteers go without a refrigerator or other electrical appliances, and many Volunteers may even have amenities such as cable television.

All Peace Corps Jamaica Volunteers must live in a host family setting for the duration of their service, as this provides added security. Housing will vary and may include an independent small home on a family compound, a private entrance to a space attached to the family home, or in a room within a home with a shared bathroom and kitchen. Please come prepared to live in any of these kind of housing arrangements.

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.

Food and diet

A common Jamaican diet includes chicken, curried goat, fish, pork, beef, rice and peas (red beans), ackee and saltfish, yam, green banana, boiled or fried dumpling, callaloo, cabbage, vegetable salad, pumpkin/pepper pot/chicken foot/bean soups, and other fruits and vegetables. Your host families will be more than happy to explain the different foods and preparation methods.

For those who are vegetarians or vegan, it is quite possible to maintain a healthy diet while living in rural Jamaica, although the variety may be less than you are used to. There is usually at least one vegetarian restaurant in most cities and towns. Fresh fruits and vegetables are everywhere in Jamaica and, when in season, can be purchased at reasonable prices.

Please note that during training breakfast and dinner for all seven days per week will be provided by your host families and you will receive an allowance for your lunch.

Transportation

The government is making progress in improving the urban transportation system, introducing more buses to address overcrowding, especially during peak hours, and getting them to operate in a timely manner. Rural travel options range from large buses, minibuses, route taxis/private taxis, to pickup trucks, bicycles, and lots of walking. It may be necessary for you to walk or bike some distances in hot, mildly humid, or rainy weather. Improved stamina, weight reduction, and overall improvement in general well-being are beneficial side effects reported by Volunteers in Jamaica. The Peace Corps provides Volunteers with funding for a supplement to purchase a bicycle on a case-by-case basis for work-related purposes. Volunteers are required to wear a helmet at all times while riding bicycles. These helmets are issued by Peace Corps Jamaica.

Social activities

There are endless opportunities for different social activities for Volunteers in Jamaica. Some common activities include playing dominoes, going to a beach, river or waterfall, hiking, snorkeling, attending concerts, playing music, church events, community fundraisers, and visiting other Volunteers and local friends.

Professionalism, dress, and behavior

Professionalism in the Peace Corps requires an awareness of the host community workplace culture, community values, and your self-presentation. To maintain a positive, culturally appropriate professional standing within a host community or workplace, Volunteers may need to adjust their style of dress, hair style, facial hair, make-up, piercings, manner of greeting others, etc. to demonstrate respect for local culture and customs. How you present yourself, in both informal and professional settings, is a reflection of you as an individual and of you as a representative of Peace Corps and the United States. In the U.S., dress (and other elements of personal appearance) may be seen as an expression of personal freedom and identity. In many host countries where Peace Corps Volunteers serve, the way you dress and present yourself may be interpreted as an expression of regard – or disregard – for those host community members around you.

Volunteers are encouraged to spend time in their communities, to develop their language skills, and to get to know the individual members of their community to better understand their traditions, culture, and local norms. As mutual trust is established over time, there may be opportunities for Volunteers to adjust their personal appearance and dress outside of the more rigid local standards. Volunteers are encouraged to discuss these potential adjustments with staff and other cultural mentors.

Clean, neat and ironed clothes are critical for being respected and seen as a professional in Jamaica. It is especially important for Peace Corps Volunteers in Jamaica to differentiate themselves from the casual clothing associated with tourists and which can help prevent unwanted attention. Shorts, flipflops, and tank tops are not considered appropriate dress in an office environment.

Visible body piercings (other than earrings for women) and tattoos for individuals of all genders are not generally accepted in professional settings. Tattoos are uncommon in rural Jamaica and can sometimes indicate a person has been involved with criminal activity. Please be prepared to cover tattoos whenever possible.

Education Volunteers must follow the Ministry of Education’s dress code for school settings, which includes guidance such as knee length dresses and skirts or button-down shirts and tailored pants with a belt and dress shoes.

Before arrival to Jamaica, Staff and currently serving Volunteers provide detailed guidance to incoming Trainees on culturally appropriate dress. During pre-service training, staff provide further information on the historical and cultural context of appropriate behavior and dress.