Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Jamaica

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In fulfilling its mandate to share the face of America with host countries, the Peace Corps is making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in its Volunteers. 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 thoroughly American despite our many differences.

Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Jamaica, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Jamaica.

Outside of Jamaica’s capital and tourist towns, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Jamaica are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.

To ease the transition and adapt to life in Jamaica, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions 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 limitations. 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 Jamaica recognizes the adjustment issues that come with diversity and will provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.

The comments below are intended to stimulate thought and discussion. They come from Volunteers serving in many countries, so not all of the issues discussed may have an impact on your Volunteer experience. Rather, they are included here to make all Volunteers aware of issues that one particular group or another may face. As you read them, you might ask yourself, “How would I feel if that happened to me?”

Possible Issues for Female Volunteers[edit]

Female Volunteers find that women’s equality and independence are defined differently in Jamaica than in the United States, with different expectations for women’s roles. In Jamaica, female Volunteers may be expected to have a husband, children, a boyfriend, or some combination of the three. They may be expected to “stay at home.” They may be proposed to on a daily basis or subjected to sexual advances or touching. Verbal harassment can be extremely crude.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color[edit]

A person of color may be the only minority trainee or Volunteer within a particular project, and may work and live with individuals with no experience or understanding of his or her culture. They may not receive necessary personal support from white Volunteers or be questioned about socializing exclusively with other minority Volunteers. Assumed to be Jamaicans, African-American Volunteers may be accepted more readily into the culture than other Volunteers and treated according to local social norms. They may also be categorized according to local stereotypes concerning skin pigmentation, such as the view that those with lighter skin are smarter or more dependable. Another stereotype Jamaicans make is calling fair-skinned blacks “red” or “white” Jamaicans.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers[edit]

Seniors may find themselves treated with more respect than younger Volunteers and thus have different interactions with Jamaicans. They may find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice and support; some seniors find this a very enjoyable part of their Volunteer experience, while others choose not to fill this role.

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

Homosexuality is generally not accepted in Jamaica’s culture, and local laws prohibit homosexual behavior. Revealing one’s sexual orientation could result in a violent verbal or physical attack, so it is safer to be discreet outside the Peace Corps family. Gay men may be referred to derogatively as “Batty Man,” “Batty Boy,” or “Chi-Chi Man.”

See also the recent NYT article, Attacks Show Easygoing Jamaica Is Dire Place for Gays:

One night last month, Andre and some friends were finishing dinner when a mob showed up at the front gate. Yelling antigay slurs and waving machetes, sticks and knives, 15 to 20 men kicked in the front door of the home he and his friends had rented and set upon them. [...] "One time may be an isolated incident," said Rebecca Schleifer, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who has studied the issue and regularly gets calls from the island from gays under attack. "When they happen on a repeated basis across the country, it is an urgent problem that deserves attention at the highest levels."

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers[edit]

Volunteers in Jamaica, a predominantly Christian nation, can expect many meetings to begin with a prayer. They should also be prepared to be criticized for not attending church.

Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities[edit]

Volunteers with disabilities may not find many facilities that allow easy access. They should be prepared for encountering unsolicited attention, fear or lack of knowledge regarding persons with disabilities, or lack of empathy or support.

Nevertheless, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services, as part of the medical clearance process, determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, of performing a full tour of Volunteer service in Jamaica without unreasonable risk to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/ Jamaica staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, and other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.rasdafd=-jokah-t0jkd-safo-kt-syodjfp-sdghfsghi-bjo0-vfbs-gh0adkof-sdhokvf[pshod[vp-skdgvfopsoivsopadohih

Possible Issues for Married Volunteers[edit]

There may be differences in job satisfaction and/or different needs. Younger Volunteers may look to couples for advice and support. Married couples are likely to be treated with more respect because the community sees marriage as a responsibility; and you may be asked why you do not have children.