Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Fiji

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In fulfilling its mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, the Peace Corps is making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps' mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race, and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other, despite our many differences. Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal.

In other ways, however, our diversity poses challenges. In Fiji, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from our own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics considered familiar and commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in certain host countries.

Outside of Fiji’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles of other countries. What is viewed as “typical” cultural behavior or norms may also be a narrow and selective interpretation, such as the perception by some that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. Foreigners justly acknowledge the people of Fiji for their generous hospitality; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to differences that you present. We ask you to be supportive of one another.

To ease the transition and adapt to the ways of your host country, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises with how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, women trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions will need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limits. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.

The Peace Corps staff in Fiji recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance while you are in-country. During pre-service training, sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, religions, ethnic groups, ages, and sexual orientations and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who will take pride in supporting each other and demonstrating the richness of the American culture.

One challenge for Volunteers from less-represented groups may be the lack of a common background with other Peace Corps Volunteers in Fiji. Some Volunteers who may need additional support include those who are older than the majority, those who are considered minority ethnic groups, and those who are homosexual. If you are in such a category, you should come prepared to cope with being one of a few or possibly the only senior, African American, Native American, Hispanic American, Asian American, or homosexual in your training group or even in the country.

Possible Issues for Female Volunteers[edit]

Though women hold positions of authority and responsibility In Fiji, it is not as common as in the United States. Gender roles in Fiji are strongly defined. Women generally have traditional responsibilities that center on the home. These include caring for the family and working long, hard hours to prepare food, obtain water, and raise children. In addition to this heavy workload, women do not enjoy the same level of equality as women in the United States. However, women also have tremendous influence in villages and are often the backbone of community development efforts. At any rate, female Volunteers may face initial difficulties finding acceptance and credibility at work. It is incumbent upon female Volunteers to accept this reality and to work to earn the trust and respect of their counterparts and community members.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color[edit]

Most Fijians assume that all Americans are European in origin, and this can cause confusion and curiosity. African-American Volunteers may be dealing with stereotypes projected in the media (especially hip-hop culture) and therefore may be called the "N" word. At the same time you will have the opportunity to be accepted because you can pass for a Fijian. Some Volunteers of color may be mistaken for Pacific Islanders and thus be treated differently from Caucasians. Asian Americans, in particular, may encounter different treatment because of the many merchants and laborers of Asian origin working in provincial centers throughout Fiji.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers[edit]

If you are an older Volunteer, we welcome your experience and special skills. Like others, you should be prepared for the basic living conditions and will need to take special care of your health because of the lack of medical facilities in Fijian villages. Older Volunteers have also commented that their immediate role of “expert” because of their age is both a blessing and a curse. They are culturally considered leaders and have a difficult time facilitating discussions or soliciting information because the community assumes they “know all.”

Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers[edit]

Fiji is, in many respects, conservative by U.S. standards, and homosexual acts are against the law. Because of this, expatriates who are gay, lesbian, and bisexual have not been able to be open about their sexuality. It will probably be impossible to be open about your sexual orientation and maintain a positive working relationship with villagers. You may find a support system within the Volunteer group. In the larger urban areas like Suva, Nadi, and Lautoka, beliefs are a bit more progressive than other parts of Fiji and its homosexual population is more open. The Peace Corps staff is committed to maintaining a supportive atmosphere for all Volunteers and will address gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers’ concerns in a sensitive and confidential manner.

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers[edit]

Christianity has been an integral part of indigenous Fijian culture since Christian missionaries first arrived in Fiji more than 100 years ago. Fiji’s major Christian churches include Methodist, the Assemblies of God, Anglican, Apostolic, Church of Christ, Seventh-day Adventist, Presbyterian, and Catholic. Indo-Fijians are primarily Hindu with a small percentage of Muslims. Wherever you are assigned within Fiji, it is essential that you understand and respect the important place that religion holds in the lives of Fijians. Volunteers who show respect for local beliefs are more likely to be accepted into the homes and lives of the members of their new community.

Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities:[edit]

Fijians in general are respectful toward people with disabilities. However, the challenge will be that there is very little infrastructure to accommodate special needs. As part of the medical screening process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, to perform a full tour of duty without reasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.

Possible Issues for Married Volunteers[edit]

To serve effectively, couples must have established positive communication patterns with each other and have a solid foundation in their marriage to face the daily challenges that they may encounter while in service. Couples in Fiji may face gender role issues, as men traditionally have a more prominent role in communities and more access to social settings. However, married couples in Fiji do have a cultural place in society and may find integrating into communities easier than single Volunteers.