Diversity and cross-cultural issues in the Eastern Caribbean

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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 welcome 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, our diversity poses challenges. Here in the Eastern Caribbean, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from your own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics considered familiar and commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed.

The Caribbean people are well-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. We will ask you to be supportive of one another.

To ease the transition and adapt to life in the Eastern Caribbean, 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 will 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 limits. 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 will ultimately be your own.

The Peace Corps staff in the Eastern Caribbean 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 will take pride in supporting each other and demonstrating the richness of American culture.

Possible Issues for Female Volunteers[edit]

Dealing with the behavior of some men in the Eastern Caribbean can be challenging to an American woman of any age. There are no laws in the Eastern Caribbean against sexual harassment, so men are used to making all types of remarks when a woman passes by. These remarks vary from a simple “psst!!” to “Looking good, baby!” to more sexually explicit solicitations. Even the local women whom they see every day are not spared this verbal harassment, but they know how to cope. Some women even regard these remarks as compliments.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color[edit]

Volunteers of color face unique challenges in the Eastern Carribean. An African-American Volunteer may pass for a local in tourist areas, but be viewed primarily as an American by many West Indians. The key is to come without preconceptions or expectations of immediate acceptance. Other minority groups may be called by names that are stereotypical and not very flattering. Hispanic-Americans will generally be labeled as white which might cause an issue with identity. The challenge is to create your own identity outside the stereotype. This is usually easier to do in your own community than in areas where you are not known.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers[edit]

Senior Volunteers usually fare well in the Eastern Caribbean. They may not become victims of some of the harassment that younger Volunteers face, but the same safety issues exist, especially when they are viewed as tourists. Sometimes, seniors command a high level of respect from community members, especially in smaller communities. At other times, they are questioned as to why they are here.

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

Many Caribbean people are intolerant of persons with different sexual orientations. Gay and lesbian Volunteers may have a hard time if they are open about their sexual orientation. Some West Indians believe that the Bible says that such people go against the divine plan. They may shun or mock gay Volunteers since they engage in what are considered to be abnormal practices.

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers[edit]

People in the Eastern Caribbean are mostly devout Christians and take religion very seriously. They go to church, say their prayers, read the Bible, and generally engage in a variety of religious activities. Many American evangelists travel to the Caribbean to hold crusades and are well-received. It is often expected that people coming to live and work in the Eastern Caribbean will be active Christians. Volunteers of Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths may be questioned about their religious beliefs, but blatant discrimination is rare.

Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities[edit]

As a disabled Volunteer in the Eastern Caribbean, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. Here, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against you. There is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States.

That being said, 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 accommodation, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in the Eastern Caribbean without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/Eastern Caribbean staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in their training, housing, job sites, or in other areas, to enable them to serve safely and effectively.

=Possible Issues for Married Volunteers[edit]

Married couples serving in the Eastern Caribbean generally have a very positive Volunteer experience. They support each other in integrating into the community, in evaluating progress in their assignments, and in putting their challenges and frustrations in perspective.

Couples live together throughout their service, including pre-service training. In additition to their individual projects, couples usually can find opportunities for collaborative work as well. However, given the small communities in the Eastern Caribbean, some couples may find the continuous presence of a spouse leaves each with little privacy.

Married Volunteers may not readily participate in activities in which their single peers are involved, and find that they are left out of the social “loop.”

The female partner may be subjected to the same sexual harassment as a single female Volunteer. Generally, most local men will desist from such behavior when it is established that the Volunteer is married.