Skip to main content
US Flag An official website of the United States government

Connect with the Peace Corps

If you're ready for something bigger, we have a place where you belong.

Follow us

Apply to the Peace Corps

The application process begins by selecting a service model and finding an open position.

Peace Corps Volunteer
2 years, 3 months
Log in/check status
Peace Corps Response
Up to 12 months
Log in/check status
Virtual Service Pilot
3-6 months
Log in/check status

Let us help you find the right position.

If you are flexible in where you serve for the two-year Peace Corps Volunteer program, our experts can match you with a position and country based on your experience and preferences.

Serve where you’re needed most

Navigating Identities in Timor-Leste

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

  • There is very little of the infrastructure, like ramps, railings, and elevators, needed to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities in Timor-Leste. Roads are often unpaved and uneven, and sidewalks in villages are rare.
  • Timor-Leste's public transportation system consists of buses, mini-buses, or large open-air trucks, which may be difficult for people with disabilities to navigate. In many communities, Volunteers may need to walk 45 minutes to reach a road that has public transportation.
  • Educational opportunities for children who are hard of hearing or have limited vision are very limited. Sign language and braille are largely unavailable.
  • Historically, there were only a few words for physical disabilities in Tetun, the most commonly spoken language in Timor-Leste. Timorese disability organizations are campaigning for more widespread use of inclusive language.

Gender role considerations

  • Most parts of Timor-Leste are patriarchal, with a few matriarchal enclaves, and gender roles are more defined than what Volunteers might be used to.
  • Timorese women typically have responsibilities around the home, such as taking care of the household, preparing meals, and managing finances. Volunteers who are identifying or presenting as women do not usually feel obliged to participate in these activities but do find it easier to connect with their families in these ways.
  • Timorese men tend to work outside the home, doing manual labor or working in salaried positions. Volunteers identifying or presenting as men sometimes find it difficult for their families to accept their help in the kitchen or other domestic chores.

LGBTQI+ considerations

  • The values of Timorese society tend to be more conservative than those familiar to Volunteers. In the rural and small towns where Volunteers live and work, there is generally little understanding of gender identities beyond binary and cisgender. Similarly, while communities may be more accepting of diverse sexual orientations, long-term same-sex relationships challenge Timorese values on families and procreation.
  • Violence against lesbian and transgender Timorese youth, primarily from within families and not society at large, has been reported. While there are some openly gay public figures and an annual Pride parade, LGBTQI+ individuals usually keep a low profile.
  • There are no legal protections based on gender identity or sexual orientation in Timor-Leste. However, since 2009, the penal code has specified that crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation (as well as ethnicity, religion, and disability) may be subject to higher penalties.
  • Most LGBTQI+ Volunteers choose to keep this part of their identity private during their service. We encourage Volunteers to seek support from other Volunteers and Peace Corps staff. Peace Corps Timor-Leste has a Peer-Support Network (PSN) composed of currently serving Volunteers, who are available to all Volunteers for guidance on navigating personal and specific challenges while serving in Timor-Leste.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

  • Timor-Leste has a diverse population with a mix of Asian, Polynesian, Melanesian, Papuan, Australasian, and European ethnicities. The country used to be made up of many small kingdoms, and to this day, over 30 local languages are still spoken. Additionally, you can find multi-racial groups of Chinese-Timorese, Portuguese-Timorese, and a few other large subgroups within the population.
  • All Black and White individuals are broadly categorized as "malae" (“foreigner”) regardless of their ethnicity. This may sometimes be further categorized by group, such as “malae Angola” (“Angolan”).
  • Timorese frequently assume that all Americans are White, and Volunteers of color may face challenges in overcoming stereotypes or being perceived as not American. They might first assume a non-White person is not from America but from another country whose citizens they perceive to look like the Volunteer’s appearance (i.e. Portuguese, Angolan, Chinese, etc.).
  • There remains an internalized preference for lighter skin in Timor-Leste, likely left over from the history of colonization and perpetuated by Indonesian, Malaysian, and other media and marketing. This usually emerges as questions about why White foreigners like to tan their skin or Volunteer frustration over the presence of skin whiteners in body soaps.
  • Hispanic/Latinx American Volunteers often report having a relatively easy transition to living and working in Timor-Leste due to the similarities in cultural values to those they are used to at home, especially those around family. Depending on the languages a Volunteer may speak, they may have an easier time learning Tetun due to the large number of words borrowed from Portuguese.
  • Although Timorese people generally welcome foreigners, there have been occasional anti-foreigner sentiments, particularly towards economic Chinese or Indian migrants. In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there was some of anti-Chinese messaging, but this eased as the pandemic became global.
  • Well-integrated Volunteers are considered part of the community and are unlikely to encounter issues. Host families and counterparts are usually very protective and have, in the past, also put visitors to the community on alert to respect their Volunteer as they are part of their family.

Age considerations

  • Elders are highly respected in Timorese communities, and older Volunteers may find themselves benefiting from this higher status. Elders are often served first at mealtimes and seated in a place of honor during meetings.
  • Older Volunteers may find themselves treated as trusted mentors and leaders and should remain aware of their considerable influence as they work alongside their Timorese counterparts.
  • Any unmarried Volunteers may receive questions about their marital status and prospects for families. It is important to understand the strong family values which underpin these questions. They are rarely aggressive, and Volunteers are usually able to manage these conversations gracefully.
  • Volunteers of all ages are required to live with host families while they serve in Timor-Leste, which can be challenging for Volunteers accustomed to living independently.

Religious considerations

  • In Timor-Leste, 98% of the population identifies as Catholic, with much smaller numbers of practicing Muslims, Hindus, and Christians. Animist beliefs, which involve spirits and ancestral worship, are also common. There is a high degree of tolerance for different religions and no policies against their participation in government or taking high positions.
  • The church plays a vital role in community social activities, and Volunteers may find attending church with their host families helpful in making connections with the community. Host families may also invite Volunteers to participate in traditional family ceremonies.
  • Although religion is important to many Timorese individuals and families, Volunteers should not feel obligated to attend religious services during their service. If a Volunteer chooses not to attend church, they can express their beliefs in a non-confrontational manner to be accepted within the community. Timorese people generally distinguish between faith and practice. Non-Catholic Volunteers and those who do not wish to attend church can communicate that they are not actively practicing religion or prefer to practice alone.
  • Volunteers should also respect any sacred sites and taboos related to them in their communities and seek to learn about them.

Considerations for Volunteer couples

  • Marriage is an important milestone in Timor-Leste and elevates an individual’s social status. Serving as a couple in Timor-Leste is highly regarded, and your marital status will earn you respect from the community and work colleagues.
  • Peace Corps Timor-Leste welcomes couples who can serve in different sectors, specifically with one spouse in Community Economic Development (CED) and the other in English Education (ED). Unfortunately, Peace Corps Timor-Leste is currently unable to place same-sex couples.
  • During pre-service training, couples in different project sectors may need to live separately due to geographic constraints at the training site and technical training and practicum requirements. Living apart during training allows each partner to focus on acquiring the language skills necessary for their assignment and spend more time engaging in intercultural interactions with host community members. Couples who live apart during training will have opportunities to spend time together as the training schedule permits.
  • While all Volunteers in Timor-Leste may experience some pressure to conform to gender roles, this can be heightened for married couples. Timorese may ask a married couple about the number of children they have or when they plan to start a family. They may also face questions about whether their gender dynamics differ from traditional Timorese roles.
  • All Volunteers, including couples, are expected to live with a host family during their service. They will have their own room within the household but share common living spaces with their host family, which may require adjusting their privacy expectations.
  • Public displays of affection are uncommon in Timor-Leste, and couples may receive a lot of attention if they touch or kiss each other around others.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

Peace Corps Timor-Leste has a Peer Support Network (PSN) available for all serving Volunteers. PSN members are selected by their peers to represent the diversity of their cohort and trained on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Each group of invitees will have a pre-service video call with PSN members and can ask questions about serving in Timor-Leste before arrival.

Peace Corps Timor-Leste offers a number of trainings on ICDEIA throughout pre-service training and Volunteer service. We are building relationships with local ICDEIA organizations and encourage all Volunteers and their counterparts to view their projects with a lens toward inclusivity.