Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Jordan
One of our nation’s greatest strengths is the diversity of our cultural heritage. In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the varied faces of America with our hosts, we are making special efforts to ensure that all of America’s diversity is reflected among our Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in its history and that participation continues to grow. These Volunteers are broadening the lessons we are learning about other people, adding to the image those people form about Americans, and “bringing the world home” to more and different American communities. We ask all who serve in the Peace Corps to begin their cross-cultural sensitivity at home, raising awareness about what is right and what is not in the way ethnic and racial groups relate to one another here in the United States.
Television is common in Jordan and perceptions of Americans, unfortunately, come from the programs on the air. Common misperceptions are that all Americans are blond, blue-eyed, promiscuous, and rich. While many Jordanians are educated and familiar with foreign cultures, rural areas tend to be more traditional and may be less accepting of diversity. In Jordan (as in all Peace Corps countries), Volunteer behavior, religion, lifestyle, 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 elsewhere. Some of you may experience subtle discrimination, and a few, blatant bigotry. Jordanians are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you live may display a range of reactions to differences that you present.
Peace Corps staff in Jordan recognizes the adjustment issues that accompany diversity and endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, there will be sessions to explore diversity and ways, individually and as a group, to cope successfully with these challenges and to be supportive of one another.
In the pre-service training homestay experience, you will live as a family member, and your actions and behaviors will be subject to scrutiny and comment. To ease the transition and adapt to the ways of your host family, you will need to make some temporary, yet fundamental, compromises with who you are as an American and as an individual. You will possibly need to modify how you present yourself, even relative to core elements of your identity. For example, female trainees and Volunteers in Jordan are not able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; Jewish Volunteers may not feel comfortable revealing their religion; political discussions will need to be handled with diplomacy; some of your personal beliefs or past experiences may best remain undisclosed. You must develop techniques and a personal strategy for coping with these and other limitations. Peace Corps staff will be available, of course, to help you feel your way, but the challenge will ultimately be your own.
Be aware that this exercise of discretion and judgment, as well as the requirement to limit some behavior, may create very real personal stress. For some, the impact of such stress will be higher than for others.
We advise you to learn as much as possible about Jordan before accepting this invitation. Use all the resources available to you and/or suggested by the Peace Corps to assess the challenges and evaluate the benefits of service as a Volunteer in Jordan. It is a marvelous country, with incredible diversity itself, presenting many opportunities for service and growth for any Volunteer. However, opportunities will be maximized when the adjustments required of you by Jordanian reality have, to the extent possible from afar, been realistically anticipated.
The information below is intended to stimulate thought and discussion. Some of these points are country-specific, some are region-specific. It is important to recognize that these issues may or may not have an impact on your own Volunteer experience. Rather, they are listed to highlight things that one particular group or another may face. As you read, ask yourself, “How would I feel if that happened to me?” and “How could I help other Volunteers if this happened to them?”
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Jordan is a traditional, patriarchal culture. Though Jordanian women are gaining more and more authority in the public eye, there are still few women in top positions in government or the private sector. Women, irrespective of the deference shown to them within the family, are usually not given the public status and respect afforded men. You should understand that this is an essential element of a centuries-old society and culture. On the other hand, it is important to note that Jordanians enjoy a greater level of formal, legal, and institutional gender equity than many other Arab societies. While a major challenge for female Volunteers is a reduction in their independent lifestyle, they can still play an important role in modeling behavior that demonstrates to communities the extended capabilities of women. Gender and development activities are an integral part of Peace Corps/Jordan activities.
Female Volunteers may:
- Find that a single woman living alone is contrary to the cultural norm.
- Receive more unwanted and inappropriate attention from young Jordanian men than they would in the United States.
- Experience the perception that they are “loose,” therefore, not afforded the respect that conservative Muslim women are given by men on the street.
- Have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the respect of host country colleagues in the workplace.
- Need to keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public (e.g., smoking in public, drinking in bars, restrictions on dress) to avoid unwanted attention and an undesirable reputation.
Find satisfaction and acceptance in being a part of the “female world” of the community.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Though Jordanians themselves come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, Volunteers of color may face challenges not faced by other Volunteers. Especially in traditional and isolated rural communities, they may experience extra frustration, even insult, in their work while dealing with rigid preconceptions and historical stereotypes. For example, since many of the domestic help in urban areas come from Asia (Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka), there is often a preconception that they are of a “lower class.” Volunteers of Asian heritatage may not fit into the common image Jordanians have of Americans and may be viewed with skepticism.
Volunteers of color may:
- Be the only minority trainee or Volunteer within a particular program.
- Work and live with individuals who have no experience or understanding of their culture.
- Not receive sufficient personal support from other Volunteers.
- Not find minority role models among Peace Corps country staff.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Age is respected in traditional Islamic societies. The views and opinions of senior members, men or women, will garner more respect and be considered with greater gravity than those of younger individuals. Deference to, and respect for, age is integral in this society. Younger Volunteers may have to work harder than their older colleagues to be accepted as professionals.
Senior Volunteers may:
- Encounter frustrations during training in having their needs met for an effective learning environment.
- Need to be more assertive in developing an effective, individual approach to Arabic studies.
- Feel isolated within the Peace Corps community overseas—most Volunteers are in their 20s.
- Not receive the necessary personal support from younger Volunteers.
- Be reluctant to share personal, sexual, or health concerns.
- Find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice and support. (Some seniors find this an enjoyable part of their Volunteer experience, while others choose not to fill this role.)
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Homosexual Volunteers can expect to encounter difficulties. Jordanian society does not openly acknowledge homosexuality. In fact, homosexual behavior is illegal in Jordan and gay and lesbian rights are not protected under the Jordanian constitution. Homosexual Volunteers must be extremely discreet about their sexual orientation and may encounter particularly trying situations at work and in the community. Many choose not to make their sexual orientation public. Regardless of what is found in the community, Peace Corps is committed to providing support to all Volunteers, regardless of sexual orientation and will work with individuals to address their individual needs.
Gay, lesbian, or bisexual Volunteers may have to contend with:
- Host country acceptance of homosexuality among nationals being different than their acceptance of homosexuality among foreigners.
- Less support from other Volunteers for a homosexual lifestyle. Homosexual Volunteers may serve two years without meeting another gay Volunteer. Also, straight Volunteers and staff may not know how to offer needed support.
- Constant questions about boyfriends or girlfriends, marriage, and sex. Wearing an “engagement ring” can help.
- Most host country homosexuals will have migrated to larger cities while most Volunteers are posted at rural sites, where cultural difficulties may be greater. Relationships with homosexual host country nationals can happen, but as with all cross-cultural relationships, they may not be easy.
- Civil liberties being either nonexistent or ignored; homosexuals may be hassled in clubs or on the street.
- Machismo, i.e., talk of conquest(s), girl-watching, and dirty jokes.
For more information, visit the following website: www. lgbrpcv.org.
Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
While married couples have a built-in support system, they face other challenges that single Volunteers do not. Couples should be sure that they communicate honestly and respect each other’s feelings (likely to change on a daily basis and at a different pace for each of them).
Your roles will be different in this culture. A married man may be encouraged to be the more dominant member in the relationship or to have his wife serve him. He may be encouraged to make decisions independent of his spouse’s views and be ridiculed if he performs domestic tasks. A married woman may find herself in a less independent role than usual and be expected to perform all the domestic chores.
Additionally, competition may cause unease; one spouse may learn language or adjust faster than the other. There may be differences in job satisfaction and/or professional adaptation.
One spouse may be more enthusiastic about joining the Peace Corps, be better able to adapt to the new physical and/or cultural environmen, and be less or more homesick than the other. Younger Volunteers may look to couples for advice and support.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
For many in America, faith and religion are distinct from other aspects of their lives. In Jordan, Islam shapes every aspect of daily life. This can call for adjustments on your part given the amount of interest or curiosity you’ll experience regarding your religious observance or the lack of privacy that will be accorded to this personal matter. All Volunteers need to think carefully about how they will respond to questions about religious beliefs and observance. Declarations of agnostic, atheistic, multi-theistic, or other beliefs will elicit responses varying from confusion to intolerance.
Jewish Volunteers, in particular, can expect to be challenged with respect to religion and politics. Jordan is an Arab country in which the predominant religion is Islam. Furthermore, more than 60 percent of Jordan’s population are Palestinians. While they reside in and are citizens of Jordan, Palestinians first came here as refugees from a land that currently forms parts of Israel. Particularly with respect to the Palestinian question, the Middle East has long been subject to conflict—ideological, religious, ethnic, political, and sometimes physical—between the Arab states and Israel. Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994. However, there are still very few Jews in Jordan except for some members of the expatriate community and no opportunities for public worship.
For many Jordanians, being Jewish equates with Zionism, and they assume that all Americans (Jewish and non-Jewish) are pro-Israel, a political position not generally accepted in Jordan. As a result, if you are Jewish and your religious beliefs or background become known, your efficacy and safety as a Volunteer could be compromised. For non-observant Christians, people may wonder (directly or indirectly) whether you are Jewish. Peace Corps recognizes that there are pros and cons to whatever coping strategy a Volunteer chooses, and we encourage you to consider each of your options carefully. Although the Peace Corps will support all Volunteers’ decisions regarding revealing their religion, most Jewish Volunteers have not felt comfortable doing so.