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Navigating Identities in Moldova

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.

Accessibility and disability considerations

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

Volunteers with disabilities in Moldova may face a special set of challenges. The law in Moldova prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and the law is enforced. However, social acceptance of persons with disabilities in public is not as prevalent as in the United States. It may be difficult to find sign language interpreter services in Moldova.

Volunteers should also expect accessibility to be limited in lodging and other infrastructure, as well as public transportation. The general infrastructure for people with disabilities is not as developed in the villages and small cities as it is in the capital or big cities.

Some accessibility equipment and devices can be bought and repaired in Moldova.

Volunteers with disabilities have had successful services in Moldova and found that the country offers many rewarding experiences. Staff are also committed to exploring creative and innovative ways to support reasonable accommodations for Volunteer success.

Gender role considerations

It will be important to absorb and attempt to understand the cultural nuances of gender roles in Moldova. During pre-service training, Volunteers will receive an introduction to gender awareness in-country and will take time to examine their own thinking about gender roles and how it has impacted them. Volunteers will also learn to analyze development projects using a gender lens to better understand gender roles in the host community and how these gender roles can benefit or limit what women and men may or may not do—both from a personal standpoint and in relation to work and relationships in-country.

Moldova’s legal context provides for formal gender equality in the family, with respect to divorce, property, and decision making, and prohibits family-related discrimination in the workplace. However, in practice you will see women performing almost twice as much unpaid care work as men. Women (up to 96 percent) also stay at home for two or three years to raise children, on partially paid childcare leave, which hinders their participation in the labor market and reduces their chances of promotion.

Among the challenges of living and working in Moldova is learning to cope effectively and constructively with the different status of women and men and the different standards of behavior to which they are held. For example, Volunteers identifying and presenting as women may find that being a single woman living alone and unmarried, goes against the cultural norms of the community and as a result may receive unwanted attention. It is uncommon and possibly unsafe for a woman to walk alone at night, as well as jog or exercise outside. Volunteers identifying and presenting as men may feel pressure to participate in specific activities to bond with other men. They may also be scrutinized if they try to engage in activities that are considered stereotypical women’s activities, like cooking and doing dishes, despite the considerable efforts to fight against existing gender norms and gendered expectations in Moldova.

Learning to cope with and appreciate the host country’s gender norms will be fundamental to a successful service.

“As a man, I was not expected to do many of the things I would do in the U.S. Typically, these activities were kitchen-related. However, keep in mind, many things done in Moldova, even when the same as the U.S., are done differently. It is just a different culture and will take time to learn. I wasn't expected to help clear the table or clean the dishes or cook; however, I always made sure to help and do whatever I could to make life easier for my host parents.”

LGBTQI+ considerations

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex relationships or on the organization of LGBTQI+ events in Moldova. However, traditional cultural attitudes towards LGBTQI+ individuals may result in discrimination and harassment, despite Law No 121 that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Despite considerable efforts to train law enforcement and media professionals, discrimination remains pervasive. A recent report mentioned on the WAGE analysis found that police have sometimes been unable or unwilling to guarantee the safety of LGBTI+ individuals.

Generally speaking, in rural and small towns where Volunteers work and live, there is limited understanding of expressions of gender identities other than cisgender. Similarly, while diversity of sexual orientations may be understood in these communities, there is little acceptance of same-sex relationships.

It is suggested that LGBTQI+ Volunteers explore the safety and integration implications (with the support of staff if needed) prior to sharing this part of their identity with community members. Volunteers have shared that they feel they can be open with other Volunteers and staff, and that they are able to identify support mechanisms and networks outside of their host community.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

The Republic of Moldova is a multi-ethnic country and this ethnic diversity forms part of its history and culture, with over 150 different ethnic groups residing in the country. Interethnic relations in the Republic of Moldova continue to be generally characterized as stable, harmonious, and peaceful.

Though Moldovan society remains largely tolerant, some cases of ethnic and racial profiling at border crossings, occasional attacks against Roma people, antisemitic graffiti, and different treatment of Roma refugees have been reported. Stigmatizing and stereotyping remain widespread in society and among public officials, fueling discriminatory attitudes towards Roma and other ethnic minorities. Roma people continue to face major obstacles with respect to their equal access to rights and basic services, particularly in the areas of education, employment and housing.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers: American Volunteers of Asian descent may not be viewed as American in the Republic of Moldova. It is common for all people of East Asian descent to be referred to as Chinese and be called “China/Chino.” Microaggressions around martial arts abilities or language/accent may be common. People of Asian descent have a reputation in the Republic of Moldova for being good at business as well as hardworking, but also likely being the source of the COVID pandemic and cheap, low-quality products.

Black/African American Volunteers: Black Volunteers are sometimes viewed with curiosity, and locals may want to take photographs as if the Volunteer is a celebrity. Volunteers of color should also be prepared for staring, pointing, and unwanted touching, especially of braided hair, or other microaggressions. While these experiences can be trying, they can also be reframed as learning and teaching moments. Some Black Volunteers shared they are perceived similarly to the Roma population, and may even assumed to be Roma, who are subject to stigma and stereotyping in Moldova. Volunteers might be shocked at hearing the N word used among youth. In the Romanian language the N word is very close to the equivalent of the English determinant “Black.”

Latinx/Hispanic Volunteers:

“Culturally, I saw a lot of similarities between Moldovan culture and my own. Both cultures emphasize family, food and community, which lessened the culture shock. Even though I am not religious, being culturally Catholic gave me a lot of insight into Orthodox traditions in Moldova. Speaking Spanish also made learning Romanian a lot easier.”
“Sometimes, people made assumptions based on the stereotypes of Latina women (i.e., that I would be overly emotional or jealous) when they learned I was Latina. The biggest issue I ran into was judgment based on my skin tone; people on the street often assumed I was Romani and treated me accordingly. Overall, I think my service was enhanced by being Latina.”

White Volunteers: Will likely experience privilege in many ways. Navigating this and being an ally to Volunteers and locals who may not have the same experience will be important. One such privilege may be not having your U.S. citizenship questioned and automatically being assumed to be American, while many of your fellow Volunteers of color may experience the contrary. At the same time, White Volunteers may stand out and receive different types of unwanted attention because of this aspect of their identity.

“Both a privilege and an obstacle for me has been my ability to assimilate so easily. As an American of European descent, including Eastern European (Slavic) and Balkan, I have been able to easily ‘hide’ within society. In the village, you'll be less noticed (but still noticed because nearly everyone knows everyone, so you'll be ‘the American’ of the village). In the city, you will easily not be noticed. The privilege comes in that people will think you know the language, while volunteers of non-European descent will be noticed and assumed to not know the language. Also, this has made me feel as if I should know the language better and constantly feeling that my language is not good enough and should be improved. Integration has been key in helping me navigate most situations and developing a good relationship with host families and community members is extremely important.”

Age considerations

Moldovans often revere older people, and older Volunteers often find that they are treated with particular respect. One must take care to avoid exploiting this status. At the same time it may be challenging to keep up with an energetic host family’s grandmother or grandfather.

Over-50 Volunteers who have friends across the age spectrum may find it difficult to establish similar circles of friends in Moldova where communities are often much more segregated by age. However, close ties and support networks may develop with other older Volunteers and community members.

Younger Volunteers in their early and mid-20s may find it more challenging to establish themselves as a professional in the eyes of their counterparts.

“As a younger Volunteer (but honestly, this can and does happen to Volunteers of all ages), you will be asked if you are married/have children. If not, the person asking will know of someone they could set you up with. Being kind but letting them know you are there for work can usually diffuse this question. If that doesn't, usually having a good host family/Moldovan support system who can stand with you helps. In the village, you will stand out as a young volunteer because typically the villages lack 20- and 30-year-olds. In the cities, especially Chisinau, you will not stand out.”
“Older Volunteers enjoy some advantages over younger Volunteers. Moldovans automatically treat older people with respect and deference. As a result, people will listen to what you have to say. This deference extends to transportation. Younger people often will offer their seat on a bus to an older person, regardless of gender. There also are disadvantages to being older. An older person does not have the energy and stamina of a younger person and may find the demands of life in Moldova tiring. Time needs to be set-aside for rest and recuperation after a day of struggling with language and customs. Local mini busses are particularly difficult for an older person. Space is at a premium and the older person sometimes can be forced to deal with cramps. Lastly, an older person often experiences some difficulty with balance and can find it especially difficult negotiating icy streets and sidewalks.”

Religious considerations

There are no official or societal restrictions about religious belief in Moldova. The primary religion is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which is divided between those affiliated with the Romanian Orthodox Church and those affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church. There are also congregations of Jews, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, and others. Religion is an important part of life for many, but by no means all, Moldovans. Most towns and villages have at least one Orthodox church, and some also have small Baptist churches.

Because of the religious nature of society, Volunteers will most likely be asked about their religious affiliation and may be invited to attend a community church. It is acceptable to politely decline, although the reasons for not attending church might be a subject of discussion, especially within the host family.

Moldovan diet is heavy in alcohol and pork, which can be challenging for some Muslim and Jewish Volunteers.

“Moldovans are very proud of their wine culture, and though I understand this, I felt very bad when a neighbor of my host family tricked me by giving me wine and saying that this is grape juice. At the time, I felt very disrespected. However, as I advance in my integration, I am able to better understand other perspectives and turn these cultural exchanges into learning moments. Now as I look back on the incident, I understand that for Moldovan people, especially men, treating others with wine is one of the unique ways of showing hospitality and making others feel welcomed. I understand that what felt like a disrespectful trick in the moment could have easily been a playful joke that I failed to pick up on. Overall, from this experience, I learned that assuming negative intent and jumping to conclusions does not serve me. Instead, I am choosing to exercise grace and patience as I adjust to the cultural differences. I hope that my community does the same for me.”
“In the U.S., I have for almost my entire life, had some formal Jewish ties, be it with a synagogue or other community organizations. Coming to a country in eastern Europe, which for centuries was the global center of Jewish life, I have not been able to identify a practicing Jewish community in which I’m comfortable. Synagogues in Chisinau (there are at least 2!) are Orthodox and women are seated separately from men. I have been warmly welcomed by the women and might even enjoy participating (even in the limited way permitted) but when seated in the women’s section, I am not able to hear the Torah being read, or even to observe the Torah as it is removed and returned to the ark. A disappointment! But not one that significantly impacts my experience as a PCV in Chisinau. Most of the people I’ve met in Chisinau are curious about Jews and Judaism. I’ve not encountered any negative bias.”
“Being a Catholic in Moldova is harder than if you were in the U.S. Most villages have Orthodox Churches, which one can attend and participate in, but it might not be the same (especially if you aren't of the Eastern Catholic rites). Catholic churches do exist throughout the country, especially in raion centers or villages with ethnic minorities. In Chisinau, there are a few Catholic Churches, with the Roman Catholic Cathedral offering various masses in English, Polish, Russian, and Romanian. Generally speaking, Orthodox host families view Catholic rites as brother/sister faiths. You may be asked some questions about it, especially in comparison to Moldovan religious holidays, but generally it's out of curiosity and wanting to get to know you better. Fasting practices are different but easily understood due to Catholic-Orthodox similarities.”

Considerations for Volunteer couples

While youth in Moldova are becoming more progressive, most of the country still believes that you must be married in order to live together. If a couple is unmarried, they should have a good understanding of how they will respond when questioned about their relationship.

Men in Moldova are viewed as the dominant gender and as such the man will usually be the person that all questions are directed towards. This can be trying for a heterosexual couple who may be used to being viewed as equals.

Couples without children may also be questioned extensively about why they do not have children, etc.

Gender roles and children are topics that are best discussed prior to service so that couples can determine in advance how to respond to questions.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

Peace Corps Moldova has a staff-led Bridge Council that works to intentionally foster a more inclusive and equitable organizational culture. Staff also meets with host country human rights groups and advocate to better understand the ICDEIA climate in country and invite representatives from mentioned groups to meet with Trainees and Volunteers during certain training and programming events. The Bridge Council also collaborates with the embassy-based DEIA council to identify potential support avenues and programs that can be helpful for Volunteers.