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Navigating Identities in Thailand

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.

  • There are infrastructure limitations like ramps, railings, and elevators needed to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities compared to those in the United States.
  • Staff are committed to exploring creative and innovative ways to support reasonable accommodations for Volunteer success.

Gender role considerations

  • Most women identifying and presenting Volunteers experience a high degree of security in their communities and when they travel within the country. Physical harassment is not common, but precautions will still need to be taken.
  • Although Thailand’s family life and society has been traditionally perceived as male-dominated, women are granted considerable respect. Recent legislation has allowed women more freedom to move out of traditional roles and into professions such as politics, medicine, and business. Respect and equal rights for women has, in recent decades, become an important part of Thailand’s values.
  • The perceived higher status of men compared with women can still manifest itself in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. For example, women are often expected to take on more work in the home than men are, and they often do so. This can be frustrating for Volunteers of all genders.
  • Young women may face an uphill battle to gain the respect of their male Thai counterparts as age and experience are often valued over youth and enthusiasm—especially for women.

LGBTQI+ considerations

The LGBTQI+ experience in Thailand is very different than in the United States. LGBTQI+ people are generally accepted in Thailand and initial legislation in favor of same sex marriage is being discussed at this time. However, as with other differences between the United States and culture in Thailand, LGBTQI+ Volunteers will experience and discover nuances in norms with differences among generations, in public life, and in the workplace.

  • Some Volunteers choose not to disclose this part of their identity to Thai friends and co-workers; some choose to build relationships before discussing sexual orientation or gender identity. Others come out in their communities early in their service and have no issues.
  • LGBTQI+ couples may be asked about their “male or female” roles in their relationship.
  • Physical contact in public between members of the same sex (such as linking arms while walking down the street) is a common way for Thais to show affection, and it is important for Volunteers to realize that such displays of affection are likely nonsexual in nature.
  • Volunteers who are accustomed to being part of a large LGBTQI+ community in the United States may not get the support to which they are accustomed. However, LGBTQI+ communities exist in urban centers, such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and you will find significant support within the Peace Corps community.
  • Peace Corps Thailand has hosted same sex couples and has not had a problem finding willing host families for LGBTQI+ Volunteers.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Adjusting to a new culture includes challenges for all Volunteers in the context of adapting to life in Thailand. Additionally, Volunteers from diverse backgrounds may also face challenges in engaging with each other across difference. Volunteers are encouraged to be mindful of this and consider this to be an opportunity to learn and grow by learning about each other.

  • Because of limited exposure, some Thai 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. These instances can be turned into teachable moments for the Volunteer and the community member. 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.
  • Asian American and Pacific Islander Volunteers: American Volunteers of Asian descent may not be viewed as American in Thailand.  Local people may expect Asian American Volunteers to understand customs and norms because of this perception.
  • White Volunteers will likely experience privilege in many ways. At the same time, White Volunteers may stand out more and receive different types of unwanted attention more often. 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 American, while many of your fellow Volunteers are not granted such automatic benefit of the doubt.
  • Volunteers of color may hear, or experience stereotypes and microaggressions based on social media and U.S. television and movies.  They may also experience unwanted attention.

Age considerations

  • Respect for elders and for those in higher social positions is important. Hierarchies of social status characterize nearly every interaction in Thailand. Children are expected to respect their parents and teachers. The young are expected to show deference to the elderly. Those with highly prestigious positions in society, such as teachers, doctors, important public figures, and monks are almost always revered.
  • Family is central to Thai life. Often, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles will all live in the same household and help to raise children and provide for the family. Children are expected to show great respect for their parents, and they maintain close ties, even well into adulthood.
  • 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 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.
  • Older Volunteers in particular may want to consider assigning power of attorney to someone in the States to deal with financial matters.

Religious considerations

  • Buddhism is the largest religion in Thailand, practiced by roughly 94% of the population. The Thai Constitution does not indicate any state religion, but promotes Buddhism, while guaranteeing religious freedom for all Thai citizens. Some Thais are Christian and Muslim. Churches and Mosques can be found throughout Thailand.
  • There is a sizeable Christian and Muslim population in Thailand and Volunteers may find a church or mosque in their community or a nearby community.  The Jewish community is smaller but there is a synagogue in Bangkok.
  • A high degree of religious tolerance exists in Thailand. Volunteers who refrain from drinking for religious reasons find that once this message is conveyed to their counterparts, it is typically respected and honored.
  • Keep in mind that the Peace Corps prohibits proselytizing by Volunteers.

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 may find American relationship dynamics and gender roles to be a significant cultural difference that may be challenging for them to bridge.
  • Pressures to conform to local culture can be challenging to men and women in very different ways. It will be important for you to consider how your partner is being affected by local cultural norms. Discuss what, if any, aspects of your relationship might be adjusted and can help reduce stress for you both.
  • Peace Corps Thailand has hosted same sex couples successfully. Staff will work with same sex couples to support them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to adapt to local norms and serve safely and effectively.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

It is important to understand that Thailand and the United States have very different historical experiences and perspectives on all aspects of ICDEIA. Peace Corps Thailand continues to facilitate ongoing ICDEIA conversations and trainings with full time staff members, pre-service training staff members, host families, counterparts, Trainees and Volunteers.

A staff-led ICDEIA training team works to intentionally foster an inclusive and equitable organizational culture within Peace Corps. The ICDEIA training team collaborates with and seeks input and participation from Volunteers to strengthen ICDEIA efforts from working to make training and programming more effective and strengthen inclusion and belonging for and among Volunteers, staff, and host country partners.