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.
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 RolesIt 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.
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, gender stereotypes are more evident and accepted in Macedonia than in the United States. Female Volunteers should not expect to be able to maintain all of their American habits in Macedonia. Adapting to local norms and customs is a necessity wherever Volunteers serve. Macedonians, especially women, generally lead more restricted lifestyles than Americans do. 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 female Volunteers, they may have to make some compromises. For example, Macedonians tend to speak more quietly and do not smile as much in public. Groups of Americans may seem too loud to locals. Female Volunteers should avoid eye contact with strange 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.
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.
Once you move to your site, you may work and live with individuals who have no experience or understanding of a non-Caucasian-American culture. Because of ignorance, stereotyped cultural perceptions, or Macedonia’s historical involvement with certain countries, you may encounter varying degrees of attention in your day-today life. You may not be perceived as being North American, in some instances, for those Volunteers who are of Asian-American background, you may even be referred to as “Japanese” or “Chinese.” These comments are not derogatory but derive from people in Macedonia focusing attention on the ethnicity of any individual. This might lead people here to think that you are really not an American but instead are from the country of your ethnic background. In any community where you are not known, you need to be prepared for staring, pointing, and comments. Finally, you should be prepared to encounter comments that would be considered completely inappropriate in the United States. Such offensive terms, however, usually are uttered because people are not aware of acceptable terms in English and not because they are meant to be offensive. Keep in mind also that Macedonia is also country of comprised of many ethnicities. This emphasis on ethnicity will lead many in Macedonia to question Volunteers who may represent an ethnic group about their background and history.
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 that the Peace Corps serve 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].
In Macedonia, any discussion of American sexual mores should proceed cautiously. Macedonian culture is not as open about issues of sexuality as is American culture. 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 sexual minorities. Relationships with host country nationals can develop, but as with all cross-cultural relationships, they may not be easy.
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 VolunteersYou are free to exercise your religious beliefs but you may not engage in proselytizing or other activities that are against the law or would impair your effectiveness as a Volunteer. Most Macedonians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church. The second largest religion is Islam, but you will also find small numbers of Roman Catholics and Protestants.
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.