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Navigating Identities in Mongolia

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.

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 Mongolia may face a special set of challenges. In Mongolia, 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 of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities, like ramps, railings, and accessible bathrooms, that has been developed in the United States.

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

Gender role considerations

During pre-service training, you will receive an introduction to gender awareness in Mongolia 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 Mongolia 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.

Single people may be asked often about why they are not married or why they are serving alone when their family is living in the United States.

You may receive more unwanted and inappropriate attention from Mongolian men than what you are used to in the United States. Therefore, you may need to keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public.

LGBTQI+ considerations

Sexual mores in Mongolia are conservative, and Volunteers are expected to respect them.

In Mongolia there is a little acceptance of same-sex relationships in the country. It is suggested that LGBTQI+ Volunteers explore the safety and integration implications of being open about this part of their identity prior to sharing it with community members.

Some gay and lesbian Volunteers who have served in Mongolia report that they were not able to be open about their sexual orientation. Those who are open may be hassled in public places or in the workplace. That said, there are many LGBTQI+ Volunteers who have served very successfully in Mongolia and have very fond memories of their community and service.

Peace Corps Mongolia supports a Volunteer-led LGBTQI+ task force. The main focus is to provide support for the LGBTQI+ Volunteer community in Mongolia, and Peace Corps Mongolia sees this as an important part of ensuring that all Volunteers receive the support they need for a successful service.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Because of limited exposure to Americans, some Mongolians will expect all U.S. citizens to be White because they are unaware of the racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. For Volunteers, the range of responses to their skin color may vary greatly and could include:

  • being mistaken for a host country national
  • being questioned about your U.S. citizenship
  • facing behavior and language skill expectations
  • being able to get better prices for goods and services

These experiences 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 Mongolia, and should be mindful of being an ally to your fellow Volunteers.

Volunteers of color in Mongolia often express frustration and annoyance at being asked where they are from. When they respond, some Mongolians react with surprise, suspicion, or disbelief. Chinese Americans may be regarded with suspicion because of Mongolians’ historically based mistrust of China. Americans of Korean or Japanese descent may be mistaken for Chinese. You may feel isolated within your Volunteer group if there are no other Volunteers of the same ethnicity. Mongolians may call you by the names of famous people of color, such as Michael Jordan if you are Black/African American, or Jennifer Lopez if you are Latin American.

White Volunteers will likely experience privilege in many ways. One such privilege may be not having your U.S. citizenship questioned and 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 more and receive different types of unwanted attention because of this aspect of their identity.

Age considerations

Mongolians interpret age as experience and in many cases, show respect to older Volunteers. People sometimes assume that an older Volunteer must be an expert in their field, which can be challenging for Volunteers who often feel like novices in their new environments.

Younger Volunteers in their early and mid-20s may need to work harder to establish themselves as professionals in the eyes of their counterparts.

Religious considerations

Propaganda or teaching about any religion other than Buddhism, Islam, and shamanism by foreign residents is prohibited in Mongolia outside monasteries and churches of these respective religions. Volunteers who openly proselytize for a particular religion are in direct violation of Peace Corps policy. More confusing and difficult to deal with, however, are the seemingly innocent things many Americans do, such as discussing major religious holidays like Easter and Christmas, which could be misconstrued by locals who are sensitive about missionary activities. Volunteers who don’t know what constitutes religious proselytizing should consult with the Country Director.

Volunteers are free to exercise or express their personal religious beliefs in a way that does not impair their effectiveness as a Volunteer. However, Volunteers should not engage in any religious proselytizing at school or in the community.

Considerations for Volunteer couples

Pressures to conform to local culture can be challenging for men and women in very different ways. It will be important for you to consider how your partner is being affected by traditional or different cultural norms. Discuss what, if any, aspects of your relationship could be adjusted to help reduce stress for you both.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

Peace Corps Mongolia staff works to foster inclusive and equitable organizational culture. Post encourages establishment of various diversity groups and provides support to existing groups. Affinity groups actively work with the staff members to apply ICDEIA lenses to various training curriculum.

The Peer Support Network is a group of trained Volunteers committed to supporting the Volunteer community.