Micronesia

Diversity and Inclusion

The Peace Corps seeks to reflect the rich diversity of the U.S. and bring diverse perspectives and solutions to development issues in the countries we serve. For the Peace Corps, diversity is a collection of individual attributes that together help the agency pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively. These include national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures. Diversity also encompasses where people are from, where they have lived, and their differences of thought and life experiences.

We also seek to create inclusion—a culture that connects each staff and Volunteers to the organization; encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness; and leverages diversity throughout the organization so that all individuals are able to participate and contribute to their full potential—throughout the Volunteer and staff lifecycle. 

Diversity and Inclusion at Your Site

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

Cross-Cultural Considerations

The Peace Corps emphasizes professional behavior and cross-cultural sensitivity among Volunteers and within their communities to help integration and achieve successful service. As a Volunteer and representative of the United States, you are responsible both for sharing the diversity of U.S. culture (yours and other Americans’) with your host country national counterparts, and also for learning from your host country’s diversity. 

To ease the transition to life in your host country, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental, compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual, and will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these limitations. 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. 

What Might a Volunteer Face?

Gender Roles

It will be important to absorb and to attempt to understand the cultural nuances of gender roles in your host country. During pre-service training, you will receive an introduction to gender awareness in-country, and will take time to examine your own thinking about gender roles and how they have impacted you. You’ll then learn to analyze development projects using a gender lens to better understand gender roles in your host country and how these gender roles can benefit or limit what females and males may or may not do—both from a personal standpoint and in relation to work and relationships in-country.

Palau is probably the most modern of the five major islands, and female Volunteers posted there find that they may be able to jog and even wear long shorts without drawing undue attention. In FSM, however, local women are more traditional and seldom wear shorts or pants, wearing longer skirts and muumuus (loose dresses) instead. 

In addition, there are strict rules about dating, which are likely to be imposed on female Volunteers by their host families. Micronesians have had little experience with women who have professional roles or who live independently. Micronesian women, for the most part, support the strict gender role distinctions, and female Volunteers often find that they are expected to participate in family chores, such as doing laundry. Depending on where they are placed, female Volunteers may find that being alone increases the possibility of being harassed. Besides receiving more unwanted and inappropriate attention from men in Micronesia than men in the United States, female Volunteers may have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the professional respect of colleagues in the workplace. Female Volunteers may also experience resentment from Micronesian women for attitudes and behaviors that the women see as traditionally male. 

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color

Because of limited exposure, some foreign nationals will expect all U.S. citizens to be white, and are unaware of 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. 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 your country of service, and should be mindful of being an ally to your fellow Volunteers.

Because America has been involved with the affairs of Micronesia for more than half a century, Micronesians are somewhat accustomed to Americans and the complexity and diversity of American society. That is not to say there is no prejudice toward people of color here. Because of the long and complex relationships between Micronesia and Asian nations, Volunteers of Asian heritage often report feeling less welcome than other Volunteers.

Possible Issues for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Ally (LGBTQA) Volunteers

The Peace Corps actively supports Volunteers and staff of all genders and sexual orientations, and encourages Volunteers to serve as allies to their fellow Volunteers in all aspects. Many countries where the Peace Corps serves have more restrictive cultures with regard to sexual orientation and non-conforming gender identities, though some are more permissive. In every country, Peace Corps staff will work with Volunteers to provide them with locally informed perspectives. Some LGBTQ Volunteers have chosen to come out to community members, with a result of positive and negative reactions, while some have come out only to select Peace Corps staff and Volunteers. Many have chosen to be discreet about their orientation and/or gender identity within their host community. LGBTQA support groups may be available in-country, providing a network to support the needs of the Peace Corps LGBTQA community. More information about serving as an LGBTQ Volunteer is available at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Peace Corps Alumni website at lgbrpcv.org. Additionally, the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity can be reached at [email protected].

Many local churches view same-sex relationships as contrary to Christian norms, and many Micronesians believe that same-sex relationships do not exist among Micronesians. You may be hassled in public places or in the workplace if you are open about your sexual orientation. That being said, there are gay and lesbian Volunteers who have served successfully in Micronesia.

Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities

Peace Corps staff will work with disabled Volunteers to support them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively. For additional support, the Peace Corps’ Office of Recruitment and Diversity can be reached at [email protected].

Possible Issues for Volunteer Couples

Couples often face pressure from host country nationals to change their roles to conform better with traditional relationships in-country. Host country nationals will often not understand American relationship dynamics and may be outwardly critical of relationships that do not adhere to traditional gender roles. It is also helpful to think about how pressures to conform to local culture can be challenging to men and women in very different ways. Considering how your partner is being affected and discussing what, if any, aspects of your relationship should be changed can help reduce stress for you both.

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers

Almost all Micronesians identify as Christian. It’s hard for them to understand Volunteers who don’t identify themselves with a religion. Sometimes this presents challenges between host families and Volunteers. Peace Corps staff strive to train and prepare host families and Volunteers to be respectful and accepting of each other’s beliefs. Slightly over half of the population in Micronesia is Roman Catholic and about 40 percent belongs to a variety of Protestant denominations. Volunteers are required to live with a host family, so many will be expected to attend religious services with their families. In Kosrae, no activities are permitted on Sunday except those associated with the Sabbath. Most Volunteers find effective ways to deal with this issue and come to feel quite at home in Micronesia.

Possible Issues for 50+ Volunteers

Older Volunteers may find their age an asset in-country and will often have access to individuals and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers. But, pre-service training can 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. More than younger Volunteers, older Volunteers may have challenges in maintaining lifelong friendships and may want to consider assigning power of attorney to someone in the States to deal with financial matters.