Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Micronesia

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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 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, however, in other ways it poses challenges. In Micronesia, 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 in Micronesia.

In Micronesia, residents of lagoon and outer islands 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. Micronesians 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 Micronesia, 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 will find that they do not have the same level of independence as they do 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 Micronesia recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. 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, religions, ethnic groups, ages, 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.

Possible Issues for Female Volunteers[edit]

Micronesia is a traditional and predominantly Christian society. Palau is probably the most modern of the five major islands, and female Volunteers posted there find that they may be able to jog and even wear shorts (long ones) without causing undue attention. In FSM, however, local women are more traditional and almost never wear shorts or pants. In addition, there are strict rules about dating, which are apt to be imposed on female Volunteers by their host families.

Micronesians have had little experience with women who have professional roles or who live independently of their families. Micronesian women, for the most part, support the strict gender role distinctions, and female Volunteers often find that they are expected to participate in family chores such as doing laundry. Most female Volunteers feel that serving in Micronesia is much more difficult for females than for males. Clearly, one of the larger challenges of living in Micronesia is coping effectively and constructively with the different status of women and men and the different standards of behavior to which they are held.

Depending on where they are placed, female Volunteers may find that being alone increases the possibility of being harassed. Besides receiving more unwanted and inappropriate attention from men in Micronesia than men in the United States, female Volunteers may have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the professional respect of colleagues in the workplace. Female Volunteers may also experience resentment from Micronesian women for attitudes and behaviors that the women see as traditionally male.

Peace Corps/Micronesia encourages female Volunteers to keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public (e.g., not smoking or drinking) to help avoid unwanted attention and an undesirable reputation.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color[edit]

Because America has been involved with the affairs of Micronesia for more than half a century, Micronesians are somewhat used to Americans and the complexity and diversity of American society. That is not to say that you will not find prejudice toward people of color here. Because of the long and complex relationships between Micronesia and Asian nations, Volunteers of Asian heritage often report feeling less welcome than other Volunteers.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers[edit]

Age is greatly respected in Micronesia, and older Volunteers are likely to be taken more seriously and given greater leeway. Although seniors are in the minority among Volunteers, they find that their age is a definite plus in Micronesia. However, the loss of personal privacy and independence associated with living with a host family may be particularly difficult.

It is not uncommon for younger Volunteers to look to older Volunteers for advice and support. Some seniors find this a very enjoyable part of their Volunteer experience, while others choose not to fill this role. Overall, senior Volunteers are highly valued for the wealth of experience they bring to their communities and counterparts.

Pre-service training may present special challenges for older trainees. You may encounter frustration in having your specific needs met in areas such as timing, presentation, and style, and you may need to be assertive in developing an effective individual approach to language learning.

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

Many local churches view homosexuality as going against Christian norms, and many Micronesians believe that gay and lesbian relationships do not exist among Micronesians. Homosexual or bisexual behavior is not likely to be accepted in your host community and you may be hassled in public places or in the workplace if you are open about your sexual orientation. That being said, there are certainly gay and lesbian Micronesians, and some of them are well integrated into Micronesian society. You may serve for two years without meeting another gay Volunteer. Lesbians may have to deal with constant questions about boyfriends, marriage, and sex (as do all women). Wearing an “engagement ring” may help. Gay men may have to deal with talk of conquests, girl watching, and dirty jokes.

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers[edit]

Half of the population in Micronesia is Roman Catholic and half belongs to a variety of Protestant denominations. Volunteers are required to live with a host family, so many will be expected to attend religious services with their family. In Kosrae, no activities are permitted on Sunday except those associated with the Sabbath. Most Volunteers find effective ways to deal with this issue and come to feel quite at home in Micronesia.

Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities[edit]

As a Volunteer with a special need or disability, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Micronesia, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes toward individuals with special needs and may discriminate against them. But Micronesia has stringent laws against such discrimination and receives federal funds from the United States for various social and educational programs that support the disabled. Still, there is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States.

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, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Micronesia without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Micronesia 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.