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Peace Corps Volunteer
2 years, 3 months
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Up to 12 months
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3-6 months
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Navigating Identities in Peru

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.

Cross-cultural considerations

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. 

Gender role considerations

It 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.

Gender roles in Peru are different from those in the United States, and it is important to understand them to be effective and to find personal satisfaction in your project assignment. Most Peruvian women have traditional roles, especially in rural areas, where they run the household, prepare meals, clean, and rear children. In addition, many women work in the fields, run small businesses, and care for farm animals. Men also have specific roles, and ―manliness‖ is very important. It is not uncommon for women to endure stares, comments, and requests for dates on the street and in other situations. Female Volunteers are obvious targets because they generally look different from Peruvian women. Female Volunteers may have to accept certain constraints that male Volunteers do not, and adjust to different norms, behaviors, and ways of doing things. Male Volunteers also encounter harassment, but less frequently. Male Volunteers may be teased about not being ―manly‖ enough for not pursuing women or drinking. Male Volunteers who cook, wash clothes and dishes, and clean the house may be considered strange by their neighbors.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

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.

Peru has many ethnic groups, including large Chinese and Japanese populations, and an Afro-Peruvian community concentrated in Lima and other coastal areas. Peruvians from these minority groups, particularly Afro-Peruvians, are sometimes subject to subtle forms of discrimination, and Volunteers, including African-American Volunteers, may experience similar treatment. All Volunteers may hear racial comments while on the street, although the comments are more likely to be descriptive than derogatory. For example, persons of Asian descent are called Chinos, whether or not they are of Chinese descent.
All Volunteers, but particularly Volunteers of color, will be subjected to a variety of questions, comments, and perhaps even jokes regarding their race or ethnicity. While some of these may be mean-spirited, most will be innocent, arising from unfamiliarity with, or misinformation about, other races and cultures. You will find it helpful to maintain a positive attitude about yourself and to approach any negative comments with patience and confidence. Peruvians, particularly in rural areas, tend to think all Americans are Caucasian and may express disbelief when you introduce yourself as an American. The need for repeated explanations of your ethnic background may become tiresome, but it is a wonderful opportunity to explain the rich cultural diversity of the United States to Peruvians.

LGBTQI+ considerations

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 where the Peace Corps serves 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 LGBTQI+ 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. LGBTQI+ support groups may be available in-country, providing a network to support the needs of the Peace Corps LGBTQI+ community. More information about serving as an LGBTQI+ Volunteer is available at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Peace Corps Alumni website at

While there is some openness about sexual orientation in the larger cities, same-sex relationships are not looked upon favorably in smaller communities. LGBTQI+ Volunteers should plan to be circumspect about their sexual orientation with their Peruvian colleagues, particularly at first. Once established in their site, each Volunteer can make the decision with whom to discuss his or her sexual orientation. Support mechanisms are available within the Peace Corps community and from Peace Corps staff.

Accessibility and disability considerations

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

Considerations 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.

Religious considerations

Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in Peru. Many other religious groups are present and visible around the country, and tolerance of all religions is fairly high. In some smaller communities, divisions exist across religious lines, and Volunteers need to understand these and be careful about being seen as aligned with one side or the other. If you are an observant member of any religion, particularly a non-Christian one, it may be challenging to explain your beliefs to Peruvians. Obtaining special foods and locating a place of worship for major holidays may also be a challenge. Lima has places of worship for most major religions, including several synagogues for the Jewish population.

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. 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.