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Navigating Identities in Kosovo

Peace Corps’ ICDEIA approach seeks to reflect and support the diversity of the United States through its staff and Volunteers, who represent a broad collection of social identities, including race, ethnicity, color, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, marital status, and socioeconomic status, among others.

How might a Volunteer’s social identities impact their service?

The information below provides additional context about how different social identity groups may experience service and what types of ICDEIA-related support you can expect from the Peace Corps.

Once Volunteers arrive at their communities, diversity and inclusion principles remain the same but take on a different shape, in which the host community may share a common culture and the Volunteer is perceived as an outsider. Volunteers may be in the minority, if not the sole American, in their community. Volunteers will begin to notice diversity in perspectives, ethnicity, age, depth of conversation, and degree of support they may receive—and may need to make adjustments. During pre-service training, sessions will be held to discuss diversity and inclusion and how to navigate differences, find common ground, and serve as an ally for peers.

The Peace Corps emphasizes professional behavior and intercultural competence among Volunteers and within their communities to help integration and achieve successful service. As a Volunteer and representative of the United States, Volunteers are responsible for sharing the diversity of U.S. culture (their own identities and those of other Americans) with their communities abroad, and for learning from their host country’s diversity.

To ease the transition to life in Kosovo, Volunteers may need to make some temporary adjustments in how they present themselves and will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with potential challenges. 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.

Accessibility and disability considerations

Kosovo is a young country in the process of becoming a middle-income country in Europe. Kosovo gained independence 15 years ago and is still developing its laws and governance systems. Many laws are in place to support accessibility for people with disabilities. However, people with disabilities still face deep-rooted inequalities and barriers, making them one of the most vulnerable and socially excluded groups in Kosovo.

Peace Corps staff will work with Volunteers with disabilities to support them in training, housing, jobsites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.

Volunteers with disabilities in Kosovo may face a special set of challenges. In Kosovo, as in other parts of the world, some people hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with visible physical disabilities and may discriminate against them.

There is very little infrastructure, like ramps, railings, and elevators, to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities compared to what is available in the United States.

There is very limited public transportation for people with disabilities.

Staff are committed to exploring creative and innovative ways to support reasonable accommodations for Volunteer success.

Gender roles considerations

In Kosovo, like many other societies around the world, gender roles play a significant part in shaping social interactions, opportunities, and expectations. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kosovo, it is essential to understand and navigate these gender dynamics sensitively and effectively.

Kosovo has a rich cultural heritage with traditional binary gender roles deeply embedded in its society. While efforts to promote gender equality have made significant progress, traditional expectations regarding the roles and responsibilities of men and women persist in many communities. Hence, women are often expected to fulfill domestic roles, while men are expected to be the primary breadwinners. Peace Corps Volunteers need to be aware of these dynamics and understand how they may influence community interactions and perceptions.

While Kosovar women have historically been a vital part of the country’s workforce, taking on both managerial and supervisory roles and working as school administrators, business owners, doctors, local government officials, and members of Parliament, women still face specific challenges, including limited employment opportunities and decision-making roles. Peace Corps Volunteers can play a vital role in promoting the empowerment of women in Kosovo by co-creating development opportunities, facilitating skill-building activities, and amplifying leadership roles for women and girls.

Volunteers identifying and presenting as women may face unique safety concerns related to their gender. In Kosovo, women do not go out alone at night, especially in more remote and rural areas, and jogging or walking alone for exercise is uncommon. Additionally, women in villages do not usually smoke or drink in public. While these activities are not forbidden for Volunteers identifying or presenting as women, they may have to make some situational judgments on the appropriateness of some actions depending on the region of Kosovo. Additionally, Volunteers identifying or presenting as women are advised to avoid eye contact with unfamiliar men, especially on buses and in the street, to avoid unwanted attention. Gender roles and acceptable behavior between genders may differ within the various ethnic groups in the country, which include Serbs, Albanians, Turks, Roma, Ashkali, Egyptian, Bosniak, and Gorani.

The Peace Corps provides training, support, and resources to inform Volunteers on gender dynamics and considerations in Kosovo, address concerns and ensure the safety and well-being of all Volunteers.

LGBTQI+ considerations

Peace Corps supports Volunteers and staff of all genders and sexual orientations and encourages Volunteers to serve as allies to their fellow Volunteers in all aspects.

In communities where Volunteers work and live, there is limited understanding of gender expressions and identities other than binary and cisgender, and little acceptance of same-sex relationships.

It is suggested that LGBTQI+ Volunteers explore the safety and integration implications, spend time getting to know their host communities, and consult with staff to determine for themselves the best way to approach discussions of sexual orientation and/or gender identities.

Some LGBTQI+ Volunteers who have openly shared their sexual orientation with community members, have experienced a mix of positive and negative reactions. Many have chosen to be discreet about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity within their host community.

More information about serving as an LGBTQI+ Volunteer is available at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Peace Corps Alumni website at lgbrpcv.org.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Because of limited exposure, some host country nationals will expect all U.S. citizens to be White, and are unaware of racial 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. Some Volunteers may face microaggressions or perceptions about their identity based on stereotypes. 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 their country of service, and should be mindful of being an ally to fellow Volunteers.

Peace Corps staff in Kosovo recognize the adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and strategies to address challenges Volunteers might face. The Peace Corps looks forward to having Volunteers of all genders from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that they will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture. Keep in mind that Kosovo is a country of many ethnicities, and ethnicity in Kosovo may be viewed differently than in the United States. This emphasis on ethnicity will lead many in Kosovo to question Volunteers from different ethnic groups about their background and history.

Age considerations

Older Volunteers may find their age to be an asset in-country and will often have access to individuals and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers. Pre-service training may 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. In Kosovo 50+ Volunteers have had rewarding and positive experiences in service.

Religious considerations

Kosovo is defined as a secular state by its constitution. Religion generally varies by region in Kosovo. In most areas of the country people are Muslim, with other religions including Serbian Orthodoxy and Catholicism. In Kosovo many religions co-exist in harmony and often support each other during religious festivals. Religious tolerance is common in Kosovo, and practicing a religion is not likely to be an issue. There are parts of the country that are very religious and traditional, and Volunteers are advised to be particularly conscientious about dress and alcohol use in these areas. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, host families or people in the community may be fasting. Volunteers who don’t wish to fast do not have to, but many Volunteers choose to do so. The Peace Corps forbids Volunteers from proselytizing or participating in other religious activities that could impair their effectiveness as Volunteers.

Considerations for Volunteer couples

Couples often face pressure from host country nationals to better conform with traditional gender roles in-country. It is helpful to think about how pressures to conform to local culture can be challenging to different genders in different ways. Consider how your partner is being affected and discuss what, if any, aspects of your relationship can be adjusted to help reduce stress for you both.

In Kosovo, heterosexual Volunteer couples are generally well regarded and treated with respect. They typically encounter fewer integration issues because marriage between a man and a woman is the norm.

Couples in rural areas may attract attention regarding their gender role dynamic. While they will not be expected to conform with traditional Kosovar relationship roles, locals will often not understand American relationship dynamics and may be outwardly critical of relationships that do not adhere to traditional gender roles.

Couples without children may be occasionally questioned about why they do not have children and they should be prepared to respond to this question.

Peace Corps Kosovo has not hosted same-sex couples. Because of the local traditional, cultural, and gender norm expectations, same sex couples face challenges to community integration and other service-related challenges.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

Peace Corps Kosovo facilitates ICDEIA sessions during pre-service training. A session on allyship promotes the benefits of having and being an ally during service. Other ICDEIA topics are shared throughout Volunteer service in the Peace Corps Kosovo newsletter and during in-service trainings.

There are certified counselors on staff or in Pristina to support Volunteers during their service. Peace Corps’ ICDEIA facilitator collaborates with the embassy-based DEIA council to identify potential support avenues and programs that can be helpful for Volunteers and embassy staff.