Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Philippines

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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 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, it poses challenges. In the Philippines, 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 the Philippines.

Outside of Manila, 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 Filipino people 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 the Philippines, 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.

Overview of Diversity in the Philippines[edit]

The Peace Corps staff in the Philippines recognizes the 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 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.

What Might a Volunteer Face?[edit]

Possible Issues for Female Volunteers[edit]

Many American women find Filipino society chauvinistic. Men are allowed much greater freedom than women. For example, Filipinos expect female but not male Volunteers to travel with a companion. Because of depictions in the media, some Filipinos assume American women are promiscuous. Behavior by women that is considered normal in the United States— such as jogging in shorts or wearing a swimsuit to swim—may reinforce this stereotype, especially in rural areas, and may lead to sexual harassment. Female Volunteers should not wear short skirts, halter-tops, or other revealing clothing. In addition, some Filipinos may have a hard time understanding what a single woman is doing away from her family. Female Volunteers used to being independent may feel overprotected and may resent encouragement from Filipinos to get married. Despite these issues, the overwhelming majority of female Volunteers feel safe and happy in the Philippines.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color[edit]

African-American Volunteers may experience racist attitudes but are more likely to face great curiosity from Filipinos about everything from intimate habits to food preferences. All Volunteers can expect to be stared at, but African Americans may get more stares. African-American Volunteers may work or live with individuals who have no experience or understanding of black American culture. They may use offensive terms, although these are more likely to be used because of ignorance than because of malice.

Asian-American Volunteers may be identified more by their ethnic background than by their American citizenship. They may have to deal with Filipinos’ stereotypical views about other Asian cultures (e.g., all Chinese are rich traders). Mistaken for Filipinos, on the other hand, Asian-American Volunteers may be given less assistance than other Volunteers. People may expect an Asian American to speak their language and to know local customs. By the same token, by blending in, Asian Americans may not be stared at as often as other Volunteers are.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers[edit]

During training and at their sites, older Volunteers may face challenges solely due to age. Since the majority of Volunteers are in their 20s, they may work and live with individuals in the Peace Corps community who are not able to provide them with adequate personal support. Older Volunteers may find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice and support. While some seniors find this an enjoyable part of their Volunteer experience, others choose not to fill this role. In addition, difficult issues may arise if your host “parents” are even younger than your children at home.

There are also benefits to being an older Volunteer. For instance, older people are shown great respect in the Philippines. But while this will open many doors, senior Volunteers may also find that they are perceived as unapproachable by younger Filipino counterparts. Service in the Philippines may also be physically harder for senior Volunteers, who may, for instance, find riding in motorized, three-wheel bicycles, jeepneys, or minibuses uncomfortable or have difficulty hauling water and other supplies.

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

It is not uncommon to encounter gay men (and to a lesser extent, gay women) in the Philippines. But Volunteers will find that an openly gay lifestyle is not acceptable in all sectors of Filipino society. Volunteers who are open about their sexual orientation in their community may limit their effectiveness as Volunteers. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers need to know that there may or may not be support for their sexual orientation and that they may serve for two years without meeting another gay or bisexual Volunteer. Lesbians will have to deal with constant questions about boyfriends, marriage, and sex (as do all women). Wearing an “engagement ring” may help. Men and women of any orientation must deal with machismo: talk of conquest(s), girl watching, and dirty jokes.

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers[edit]

The Philippines is the only country in Asia with a predominantly Christian population—more than 90 percent (about 80 percent of these are Roman Catholic). Of minority religious groups, about 8 percent are Muslim and 4 percent belong to the Philippine Independent Church—a nationalist Catholic Church. The Iglesia ni Kristo (Church of Christ) is the largest Protestant denomination with 4 percent, while Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other denominations make up about 2 percent. Although Volunteers are free to exercise their personal religious beliefs, they may not engage in religious proselytizing or other activities that are against the law or would impair their effectiveness as a Volunteer.

Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities[edit]

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 the Philippines without unreasonable risk to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/ Philippines 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.

Buildings in the Philippines generally are not suited for disabled people. Only a few hotels and other establishments are equipped with wheelchair ramps, although some movie houses in big cities now have toilets with big doors. These deficits are largely made up for by the sheer humanity of the people. When they see a disabled person, Filipinos behave perfectly naturally, without ingratiating themselves in an embarrassing way. And there is always someone around with a helping hand.