Items that ship airmail normally take about two weeks between the U.S. and FSM or Palau. The mail system is generally quite reliable. During training, you can receive mail at the main Peace Corps office in Kolonia, Pohnpei:
“Your Name,” Peace Corps Trainee Peace Corps/Micronesia PO Box 9 Kolonia Pohnpei, FM 96941.
Peace Corps/Micronesia provides cellphones to all Volunteers as a safety and security measure. Your U.S. cellphone may or may not be compatible with the system and frequency used in-country. If your site is on an outer island, you will communicate with the Peace Corps offices using single-side band (SSB) radio or a Peace Corps-issued satellite phone, but you will not have international calling capability from your site.
While many Volunteers bring a laptop, many Volunteer sites have limited or no Internet availability. Each Peace Corps office in Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk, and Yap has desktop computers with Internet and email access available for Volunteers’ project-related work. However, most Volunteers do not have easy access to these Peace Corps offices as they are located in the more urban part of the island state and Volunteer sites tend to be more remote.
Housing and Site Location
Volunteers in Micronesia are required to live with a host family for training and the entire two years of service. Being “adopted” into a family gives a Volunteer a vehicle to becoming part of the local community. Micronesians live with extended family and find it extremely odd for anyone to live alone. Living with a family makes it easier to learn the language, provides unique opportunities to become a part of the culture, and ensures a safer and more secure environment. If you are posted to a main island, you will be living in a village. Most main island communities have electricity and water, with houses constructed of block or plywood with a tin roof. Micronesia uses the same electrical system as the U.S., running 110 volts of current through standard two-prongs. Lagoon or outer island communities tend to be more rustic and traditional, although most houses are made of block with a tin roof. Most communities consist of clusters of houses, a school, and a church. Life on the outer islands is much more traditional in terms of cultural events, food, dress, and social interactions. Traditional tribal/caste structures and gender roles are strong and determine levels and lines of communication. Volunteers assigned to the outer islands need to be especially sensitive to the cultural norms.
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 and traveler’s checks 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
Although there are Volunteers who have remained vegetarians throughout their stay in Micronesia, the local food here is not oriented toward a vegetarian diet. Canned meat, ramen, pork, and chicken with root crops are the norm. Fish is available often in most locations and white rice is eaten at almost every meal. Fresh fruits and vegetables are rare, especially in the outer islands and, when available, are expensive. Local fruits like papaya and pineapple are occasionally available, with citrus being more common in Kosrae. Coconuts and bananas are available on most islands. Families consider food a significant part of their culture, and Volunteers are expected to eat with their families and eat what the family is eating. The family will expect them to participate in customs and funerals, in which food plays a significant role. Volunteers find that eating what the locals eat helps them to quickly gain acceptance, and that refusing food creates a significant wall between them, their family, and their community. The local diet is often high in fat, cholesterol, and carbohydrates. If you are a vegetarian and unwilling to change your diet you may want to reconsider applying to be a Volunteer at this post.
There is no public transportation in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) or Palau, except for the limited school bus service in Yap. Volunteers on some islands can use taxis, which tend to be inexpensive. Most Volunteers coordinate with their host families regarding transportation into town. If you choose to purchase a bicycle, the Peace Corps requires you to wear a helmet and will issue you one. Depending on your site, you may travel by boat on a regular basis and are required to wear a life jacket and carry a PLB (personal locator beacon, also provided by the Peace Corps) any time you are in a boat. The Peace Corps prohibits Volunteers from owning or driving motorized vehicles and riding on motorcycles. Violations of these policies may result in immediate termination of your Peace Corps service.
Most social activities in Micronesia center on the family. There are many sporting events, cultural events, and customs throughout the year in which you may be able to participate. Micronesians love watching movies and most families on main islands own DVD or VCR players. Traditionally, local women only go out in the evening to other family members’ houses. Volunteers under age 40 may still be considered “youth,” per the Micronesian definition of youth, and will likely be under the protective and watchful eyes of strict host families. Standards of social behavior may appear somewhat more relaxed in Palau communities closer to the capital, but the nuances of what behavior is considered acceptable take time and patience to learn. Kosrae is the most religious of the islands and Volunteers there may find themselves in church with their families every Sunday. Despite these differences in social activities and norms, most Volunteers learn to enjoy recreational time with Micronesian friends and find their niche over time. Possible outdoor activities include snorkeling, hiking, and kayaking.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Micronesians in all FSM states and Palau dress conservatively. Micronesian men rarely wear shorts to work. The average Micronesian woman does not wear anything that would expose her thighs or knees. Women typically wear longer skirts and muumuus (loose dresses), often with layers of slips or other skirts underneath so their thighs are not visible when backlit. Bicycle-type sports shorts can also be worn underneath skirts. Tight blouses, halter tops, and tank tops are seldom appropriate for women. Loose-fitting blouses with covered shoulders or T-shirts are appropriate. In your home, loose sleeveless tops that are not “strappy” may be acceptable. Men should wear casual slacks and sports shirts. On some of the outer islands, both men and women go bare-breasted, but women still cover their thighs. Although island dress tends to be casual, trainees and Volunteers should dress conservatively (long pants for men; nice long skirt/dress [mid-calf] and blouses that cover one’s shoulders for women) during special occasions and when visiting government offices. Volunteers are not only guests in the country, but are also representatives of the Peace Corps. Micronesians will look up to you for dressing well and earning their respect will help you succeed as a development worker.