Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Kiribati
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of different races, ethnic backgrounds, ages, religions, and sexual orientations are serving in today’s Peace Corps than any time in recent years. These diversities 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, it poses challenges. In Kiribati, 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 commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed.
Outside of Tarawa, residents of the outer islands have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What is viewed as “typical” cultural behavior or norms may be a narrow and selective interpretation, such as the perception in some countries that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Kiribati 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 differences that you present.
In order to ease the transition and adapt to life in Kiribati, 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 your pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
The Peace Corps staff in Kiribati recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to 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 cultures, backgrounds, religions, ethnic groups, and ages 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.
- 1 Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
- 2 Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
- 3 =Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
- 4 Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
- 5 Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
- 6 Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
- 7 Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Female Volunteers encounter different and more cultural challenges in Kiribati than male Volunteers. There is a distinct lack of the independence and freedom that you have in the U.S. You cannot go to most places alone, and you may not be able to walk around outside without others in tow.
But these restrictions are for your own safety, and they apply to I-Kiribati women as well. When away from home, female Volunteers should walk with other Volunteers or with neighbors, especially at night, to increase their safety.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
The I-Kiribati are very tolerant of and even curious about racial differences, but they do tend to group people into categories based on appearance. All Caucasians are thought to be from America or Australia. All African Americans are thought to be from Africa, the Solomon Islands, or other Pacific countries. All Asians are thought to be from China. All Hispanic people are usually thought to be half-Caucasian and half I-Kiribati. It may take some effort to explain that some countries have many races and cultures and that people who look similar may come from different continents. There are still some negative feelings among older I-Kiribati toward the Japanese, which date back to the Japanese occupation of some of the Gilbert Islands in World War II. However, this animosity is diminishing, and the Japanese now living in Kiribati have helped ease the tensions created by the war.
=Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Age is greatly respected in Kiribati. Older Volunteers in Kiribati are often very successful because the people respect their wisdom and experience. One difficulty for senior Volunteers (as for many younger Volunteers) is getting used to sitting on a hard floor for hours on end. Chairs are not used on outer islands. But the I-Kiribati generally understand that some people have physical restrictions and may need to shift positions regularly.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
While the I-Kiribati are very tolerant where race is concerned, homosexuality is not well understood. Homosexuality is not viewed as negatively in Kiribati as it is in some other cultures. They acknowledge there are homosexuals in their society, but these individuals are not always well accepted. There are both lesbians and gay men in Kiribati, and although some aspects of their behaviors are acceptable, there is no acknowledgement of their sexual orientation. Gay men tend to be treated as women in Kiribati culture and can be seen performing “women’s” tasks. Being open with your sexuality can affect your ability to integrate into a Kiribati community. Therefore, gay or lesbian Volunteers need be willing to adhere to cultural norms, which likely means that being “out” publicly is not advised.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Most I-Kiribati are affiliated with a Christian denomination and go to church most Sundays. They respect other religions, although they do not generally know much about them. If you are asked to attend a celebration at a church, it does not mean you are being recruited as a new member—just that you have been invited to celebrate a special day with friends. It is recommended that you attend different churches to keep yourself accessible to all groups and not be seen as preferring one group over another.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
As part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, of performing a full tour of Volunteer service in Kiribati without reasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Kiribati 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.
There have not been many Volunteers in Kiribati with a disability, although a past group included a Volunteer with cerebral palsy. Because of the I-Kiribatis’ natural curiosity about differences, she was frequently stared at. Although this made her uncomfortable, she learned to accept it with time and began to create the first organization for people with disabilities in Kiribati.
Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
Being a married couple in the Peace Corps has its advantages and challenges. It helps to have someone by your side to share your experience with, but there are also cultural expectations that can cause stress in a marriage. The most important thing to remember is that you are in a foreign country with new rules. As long as you remain open-minded, you will have a successful service. The possible issues listed below will also depend on the size of the community you will be living in. Sometimes, one spouse may be more enthusiastic about joining Peace Corps, be better able to adapt to the new physical and/or cultural environment, or be less or more homesick than the other.
Your roles may be different in a new culture. A married man may be encouraged to be the more dominant member in the relationship or to make decisions independent of his spouse’s views or to have his wife serve him. He may be ridiculed if he performs domestic tasks. On the other hand, a married woman may find herself in a less independent role than that to which she is accustomed. She may experience a more limited social life in the community than single Volunteers (since it may be assumed that she will be busy taking care of her husband). She may also be expected to perform “traditional” domestic chores such as cooking or cleaning.
Competition may cause difficulties for couples as one spouse may learn faster than the other (e.g., language or job skills). 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. You may be asked why you do not have children.