During pre-service training, your mail should be sent to the separate pre-service training post office box (you will be given this address before you depart for the Kyrgyz Republic). Once you have moved to your assigned site, you will use your residence or workplace as a mailing address. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and boxes. Also advise them to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes. Be aware that you may incur customs charges on your personal packages.
Cellphones are extremely useful here, though coverage can be spotty, even in the cities. If you have an old phone and a charger that works with 220 volts, you can bring it. The Peace Corps recommends that you not buy a new phone before you leave nor bring an expensive phone as they tend to get lost. If you do decide to bring a phone with you, make sure that it is “unlocked” so it will be compatible with a local SIM card. Any GSM Quad band phones: IPhones, Android phones, and other sophisticated phones will work, though some data services may not be available. Keep in mind that the post will provide you a cellphone with most basic functions upon your arrival to the country. You will buy minutes for the phone as you need them.
Volunteers bring a laptop or tablet with them, along with other devices for external storage and backup, such as external hard drives and flash drives. Volunteers communicate by email from Internet cafes, work computers, and by connecting their laptop to the cellular network with the help of a 3G/4G USB Dongle modem/pocket mobile wi-fi routers if they can get a connection. There are three GSM mobile providers in country, they provide 4G/LTE network coverage in cities/towns, however in rural areas mobile networks are mainly 2G/3G.
Housing and Site Location
Peace Corps Kyrgyz Republic assigns Volunteers to the sites with the greatest need and to schools that demonstrate potential for making the best use of Volunteers’ skills. Most Volunteers are placed in villages. All Volunteers are required to live with a host family or on the grounds of a family home in a separate building (compound housing) for the full 2 years. The reasons for this are that Volunteers that live with families have more opportunities for daily language practice, deeper understanding of the local culture, easier integration into their communities and direct support for incidents and challenges. Within the host family, Volunteers stay in a separate room with simple basic furniture such as a bed, a table and chairs, a wardrobe or bureau for clothing. A stove and a refrigerator will be shared with the host family. The Peace Corps will provide you with a water filter or distiller. Because winters in the Kyrgyz Republic are cold and sometimes heating systems can be inadequate, the Peace Corps may provide you with a coal allowance depending on your living situation. Still, you will probably need long underwear and perhaps a warm sleeping bag. You need to be very flexible in your housing expectations. Indoor toilets are rare in the villages. Water may arrive by bucket from a well or public tap, and electricity shortcoming may occur. The Kyrgyz Republic uses 220 volts, 50 cycles; if you plug a 110-volt (the U.S. standard) appliance or radio into a 220-volt socket, it will be damaged and possibly destroyed.
Living Allowance and Money Management
The Kyrgyz Republic is a cash-based economy. There are now ATM machines in the major cities, but credit cards are still usable only on a limited basis. As a Volunteer in the Kyrgyz Republic, you will live at roughly the same economic level as your neighbors and colleagues. You will receive a modest monthly living allowance (deposited in local currency into a bank account that will be opened for you prior to your arrival) to cover food, utilities, household supplies, hygiene products, clothing, recreation and entertainment, local transportation, telephone calls, reading materials, and other personal expenses. The amount of this allowance may not seem like a lot of money, but you will find yourself earning more than many of your colleagues and their supervisors. You will also receive a one-time settling-in allowance in local currency to purchase household items when you move to your permanent site. The settling-in allowance is intended to defray part of the costs of items such as cooking utensils, dishes, towels, and blankets. Finally, you will be given a monthly program travel allowance to support regional exchanges with other Volunteers and to travel to Bishkek to visit international organizations or meet with your program manager. This allowance is designed to encourage Volunteers to exchange knowledge, skills, and best practices about their primary and secondary projects with one another.
Food and Diet
Once a nation of nomadic herders, today’s citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic choose a diet reflective of this nomadic heritage; traditionally, herders got everything they needed to survive from their animals. Today’s diet still relies heavily on meat and a limited selection of vegetable, with much food fried or boiled. There is a wide range of fresh food for sale in markets throughout the country during the spring, summer, and fall. Selection in the winter is limited, while carrots, cabbage, green radish, apples are always available. Most local markets have white, pinto, mung, and red beans; chickpeas and split peas; pasta, rice, peanuts, and other nuts. Cheese, eggs, and milk are available in many, but not all, markets. Tofu is available in larger towns. Oranges and bananas can be found in some parts of the country but are often expensive. It’s difficult to be a vegetarian in Kyrgyz Republic, but possible. The cost of purchasing fruits and vegetables out of season can be very expensive and preserving fruits and vegetables while in season requires planning, but previous Volunteers have managed. Due to the local diet and cultural importance of sharing meals with host families, Kyrgyz Republic would be a difficult placement for vegans. Those with gluten intolerance should be aware that bread has a role both in tradition and as a food staple.
Most Volunteers travel within the country in commercial minivans (called marshrutkas), but some choose to pay more and hire long-distance taxis. Although the vans often do not operate on a set schedule, there is regular public transportation by vans or buses between cities and towns. Taxis hold up to 4 adults who are not necessarily known to each other. Travel from villages to cities or towns generally uses a local driver who serves as a taxi driver for the village. There are also affordable domestic flights linking the two major cities, Bishkek and Osh.
Because of safety issues, Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding on two-or three-wheeled motorized vehicles for any reason. Volunteers are not allowed to own or drive private automobiles or tractors. Road travel between villages and towns after dark is prohibited; violation of these policies may result in the termination of your Volunteer service.
The Kyrgyz people are well known for their hospitality, and most social life at Volunteer sites centers on visiting friends’ homes, a custom known as “guesting.” Guesting means being invited to a home for a meal and conversation; this could last up to five or six hours, depending on the time of day. As the only American present in a community you will often be the guest of honor. Being a guest in a Kyrgyz home can be simultaneously rewarding and stressful. The local people, whether ethnic Kyrgyz, Uzbek, or Russian, are hospitable, charismatic hosts. This means that you, as the guest, will be constantly encouraged to eat and drink more and more.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
You will be serving as a teacher, a role model for young people, and a professional. It is an important and a highly respected position.
Peace Corps is working at the invitation of the government of the Kyrgyz Republic. Volunteers are expected to meet the core expectations, uphold a high standard of professionalism, and be respectful of the host country culture at all times. One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is learning how to fit into the local culture while also maintaining your own cultural identity. Additionally, you are expected to be a professional and to adjust to norms within the workplace.
Expectations for your professionalism start with your dress and appearance. This is a common expectation in professional settings around the world, but in Kyrgyzstan in particular, your dress and appearance is an important way to show respect for others. This includes a neat and clean appearance with conservative attire. You might be surprised by how much care people take to keep their appearance clean and neat; for example, you might see people cleaning/dusting their shoes repeatedly throughout the day.
Tattoos are not common and you should be prepared to cover them. Piercings are also not common, except for a single ear lobe piercing for females. Both tattoos and piercing are not generally accepted in professional settings.
You can expect cold winters and hot summers, so prepare to have appropriate clothing for a variety of climates. Winters are very cold, and many PCVs dress in layers. Summers can get quite hot, so prepare to have some conservative attire suitable for hotter temperatures as well.
Inappropriate behavior, such as excessive drinking or other actions that compromise the safety and security of you and others, is not acceptable.