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Navigating Identities in North Macedonia

Peace Corps’ Intercultural Competence, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (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, jobsites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.

  • As a Volunteer with disabilities in North Macedonia, you may face a special set of challenges. In North Macedonia, 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, like ramps, railings, and elevators, needed to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities compared to those in the United States.

Gender role considerations

Macedonian women have historically been a vital part of the country’s workforce, taking on both managerial and supervisory roles and working as school administrators, business owners, doctors, local government officials, and members of Parliament. Nevertheless, binary gender stereotypes are more evident and accepted in North Macedonia than in the United States. Volunteers identifying and presenting as women should not expect to be able to maintain all of their American habits in North Macedonia. Adapting to local norms and customs is a necessity wherever Volunteers serve. Macedonians, especially women, generally lead more restricted lifestyles than Americans may. Women do not go out alone at night, and jogging or walking alone for exercise is uncommon. In addition, women in villages do not usually smoke in public. While these activities are not forbidden for Volunteers, they may have to make some compromises. Volunteers identifying or presenting as women are advised to avoid eye contact with unfamiliar men, especially on buses and in the street. In addition, gender roles and acceptable behavior between the sexes may also change within the various ethnic groups represented in the country, which includes Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Roma, and other ethnic groups. Some smaller, more traditional villages may not be as welcoming to Volunteers identifying and presenting as men due to traditional family structure and norms.

  • Volunteers may find conservative attitudes regarding gender equality.
  • Likewise, the behavior of Volunteers identifying and presenting as women is more often scrutinized or criticized by host communities than that of their peers identifying or presenting as men.
  • Volunteers identifying or presenting as women may find that they are constantly asked about their marital status and whether they have children because women of a certain age are expected to be married.
  • Volunteers identifying or presenting as women may also experience sexual harassment from men of various ages.
  • Although women in North Macedonia are a vital part of the workforce, they may also still perform traditional duties centered around the home that include caring for the family (cooking and cleaning).

LGBTQI+ considerations

In North Macedonia, in general, any discussion of American sexual orientations, attitudes or behaviors should proceed cautiously. Macedonian culture is not as open about issues of sexuality as American culture may be. Although it is not against the law in Macedonia, same-sex relationships are not culturally accepted. Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals certainly exist in the country, but without the same level of acceptance as in the United States. Most are likely to have migrated to larger cities. Because of cultural norms, gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers may discover that they cannot be open about their sexual orientation in their assigned community, and there may be little emotional support for LGBTQI+ individuals. Relationships with host country nationals can develop, but as with all intercultural relationships, they may not be easy.

LGBTQI+ Volunteers should explore the safety and integration implications (with the support of staff if needed) prior to sharing this part of their identity with community members.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Some community members 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 community member 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. 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.

Once you move to your community, you may work and live with individuals who have no experience or understanding of a non-White-American culture. Because of ignorance, stereotyped cultural perceptions, or North Macedonia’s historical involvement with certain countries, you may encounter varying degrees of attention in your day-to-day life. General reactions could include unwanted attention, hurtful comments, and questions over origin. Specific examples include:

  • Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers: American volunteers of Asian descent may not be viewed as American in North Macedonia. It is common for all people of East Asian descent to be referred to as “Chinese” and be called “China/Chino” or “Jackie Chan.” Microaggressions around martial arts abilities or language/accent may be common.
  • Black/African American Volunteers:  Black/African American Volunteers will experience staring, pointing, and comments. They will be called names that are deeply offensive. People will approach them to take pictures with them or ask to take pictures of them—or take your picture without their permission. Black/African American volunteers with dreadlocks, braids, or other natural hairstyles may also experience people touching their hair without permission.
  • Latinx/Hispanic Volunteers: Latinx/Hispanic Volunteers may be perceived to belong to the ethnic Roma group, a historically marginalized population in North Macedonia. They may be called names that are deeply offensive, experience racial discrimination, or undergo moments of exclusion in social settings.
  • White Volunteers: 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 as a Volunteer.  One such privilege may be not having your U.S. citizenship questioned and automatically being assumed to be U.S. American, while many of your fellow Volunteers of color may experience the contrary.

Age considerations

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. 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—which can lead to feelings of isolation. 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.

Religious considerations

Religion is an important part of life for many, but by no means all, Macedonians. Religious tolerance is fairly common for all regions in North Macedonia, and practicing a religion is not likely to be an issue.

In North Macedonia, religion generally varies by location. The most common religion is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, practiced mainly by ethnic Macedonians, Serbians, Vlakhs, and Romanis.

Muslims are the second-largest religious group with almost one-third of the population adhering to Islam, mainly from the country's Albanian, Roma, Turkish, Bosniak, and Torbeši population. There are also many other religious groups in North Macedonia, including Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism.

The churches, monasteries, mosques, cathedrals, and other temples of worship play a significant role in the country’s cultural heritage. They are among the country’s most precious resources, where the spiritual and artistic heritage is magnificently preserved.

Considerations for Volunteer couples

Couples often face pressure from community members to change their roles to conform better with traditional relationships in-country. Community members will often not understand American relationship dynamics and may be outwardly critical of relationships that do not adhere to traditional binary gender roles. It is also helpful to think about how pressures to conform to local culture can be challenging to different genders in very different ways. Considering how your partner is being affected and discussing what, if any, aspects of your relationship should be adjusted can help reduce stress for you both. Couples without children may be repeatedly questioned about why they do not have children, etc. Couples should prepare to respond to this question from the community before coming to post.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

  • Peace Corps North Macedonia staff have continuing education with a focus on ICDEIA. This has equipped staff with knowledge and skills to support Volunteers.
  • Staff have created several platforms for Volunteers to obtain necessary support. These include a Peer Support Network group, an ICDEIA Climate pre-departure call, ICDEIA learning experiences during pre-service training, and numerous post developed resources including interviews with previously serving Volunteers about how their identities impacted their service. Individual need-based staff support is also available.