Mail takes a minimum of 10 days to arrive in North Macedonia if sent by airmail. Packages sent by surface mail can take up to four months. Your address during training will be as follows:
Osma Udarna Brigada, 2
International phone service is good and most PCVs get “prepaid” service to place calls. Bringing a U.S. phone is not recommended. Your living allowance will include sufficient funds to cover reasonable cellphone usage. Many Volunteers make international and local calls by using Internet calling programs, such as Skype and Dial Pad.
Insurance is recommended, but not required, for your computer and other electronic gear. Some, but not all, Volunteers have access to computers at their work sites, which may or may not have Internet and email capabilities. Such equipment, however, is intended to be used primarily for work-related activities, and you should not assume that it can be used for personal purposes. Internet and email access is available throughout North Macedonia. Internet cafes can be found in most major cities and towns, and wireless Internet is available in many cafes. Some Volunteers also choose to have an Internet connection installed in their homes.
Housing and Site Location
Housing must adhere to Peace Corps-defined standards as staff visits all proposed living arrangements to evaluate their suitability. Electrical sockets in North Macedonia fit standard European plugs, so if you bring an adapter shaped like a square, it may not fit into the socket. It is better to wait and buy 220-volt appliances when you arrive in North Macedonia. Volunteers should be prepared to live with host families throughout their service in their assigned communities. Living with a host family will help Volunteers learn the customs and cultures of the host country nationals, making it easier for Volunteers to integrate into the community as well as stay healthy and safe.
Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to adjust to the daily habits, customs, and lifestyle of their host families to learn about the similarities and differences in host country culture and American family behavior and share American culture and traditions with the host family. Volunteers will participate in host family events and daily chores like cleaning and cooking. Volunteers are expected to respect the individual rules of each household as explained to them by host family members and according to their own observation of their religion, customs, habits, etc. This includes appearance, behavior, and attitude. Volunteers may cook and eat together with their host families. Depending on the situation, Volunteers may negotiate with their host families to cook for themselves and eat meals on a different schedule. Volunteers are expected to be frugal in their use of utilities because of the extremely high cost for electricity.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive a monthly living allowance and housing/utility allowances designed to enable you to maintain a modest lifestyle. These allowances are deposited in your bank account in denars every month and are intended to cover housing/utilities, food, household supplies, local transportation, toiletries, recreation, entertainment, and incidental expenses. Lifestyles are different here than in the States, but most Volunteers who adopt a Macedonian lifestyle find their living allowance to be sufficient for their needs. In other words, the lifestyle you adopt while serving in North Macedonia will largely determine the adequacy of the living allowance. If you adopt a typical Macedonian lifestyle, your living allowance will be more than adequate. Traveler’s checks are not recognized and are exceedingly difficult to cash. Credit cards can be used in some locations in Skopje, particularly those that cater to tourists. ATMs are available throughout the country. Some Volunteers have found it useful to retain their checking accounts in the United States to pay bills in the U.S. or to access U.S. funds. Currency should only be exchanged at banks and legal change bureaus; changing money on the street is illegal.
Food and Diet
You will not find many prepared foods in North Macedonia and there is limited choice of frozen food, but a wide variety of delicious fresh food is always available. “Homemade” is the best word to describe the fare on a Macedonian dining table. Peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbages, onions, garlic, meat (chicken, beef), and olive oil are staples in Macedonian cooking. The meat most often found in restaurants and shops is mutton or beef, though chicken and fresh fish are occasionally also available. White and yellow cheese, eggs, milk, and yogurt are also a regular part of the Macedonian diet. Vegetarians will not have any problems maintaining a healthy diet if they cook at home. Lentils, beans, and rice are widely available, as are peanuts and other kinds of nuts. Eating out at restaurants may be a little more difficult for vegetarians, as most menus consist of meat dishes. You will never go wrong ordering a salad and bread. Along with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits are plentiful in season. North Macedonia is widely known for the production of fruits and vegetables. You can make your own juice and jam from these or they may be available in local stores.
Macedonia has a large network of bus routes, as well as some train service, which makes it possible to travel to practically all destinations by public transportation. A few previous Volunteers have experienced thefts while traveling. As you would anywhere else, you must be vigilant in protecting your valuables while using public transportation.
You will find no shortage of entertainment opportunities in North Macedonia. There are museums, concerts, theaters, athletic events, hot springs, outdoor markets, historical and ethnographic centers, coffee shops, bars, discos, and cinemas for you to enjoy. Most recently released American films are shown in theaters in English with Macedonian subtitles. North Macedonia boasts some of the most magnificent natural areas in Eastern Europe, with a great diversity of flora and fauna. Opportunities for outdoor recreation include hiking, camping, rock climbing, and bird-watching. During the summer, Macedonians flock to Lake Ohrid to enjoy its pristine waters and beautiful scenery. During the winter, Macedonia’s several ski resorts attract skiers from all over Europe.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and working as a professional. It is not an easy situation to resolve, but the Peace Corps can provide you with guidance. While there are no hard and fast rules, a foreigner who wears ragged or dirty clothing is likely to be considered disrespectful and possibly unreliable. Improper attire creates difficulties in gaining the respect and acceptance of your Macedonian and Albanian colleagues. You will have occasions to dress up regularly, so bring some more formal attire in addition to professional clothes appropriate for everyday wear in the office or classroom. Think business casual.