Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Macedonia
From Peace Corps Wiki
|Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Macedonia|
|As a Peace Corps Volunteers, you will have to adapt to conditions that may be dramatically different than you have ever experienced and modify lifestyle practices that you now take for granted. Even the most basic practices— talking, eating, using the bathroom, and sleeping — may take significantly different forms in the context of the host country. If you successfully adapt and integrate, you will in return be rewarded with a deep understanding of a new culture, the establishment of new and potentially lifelong relationships, and a profound sense of humanity.|
| See also:|
For information see Welcomebooks
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service expected in the United States. If you expect U.S. standards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration. Mail takes a minimum of 10 days to arrive in Macedonia if sent by airmail. Packages sent by surface mail can take up to three or four months. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Letters may arrive with clipped edges because someone has tried to see if any money was inside (again, this is rare, but it does happen). Tell your correspondents to number their letters and to include “Airmail” on their envelopes.
We encourage you to write to your family regularly and to number your letters. Family members typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so it is a good idea to advise them that mail service is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. If a serious problem were to occur, Peace Corps/Macedonia would notify the Office of Special Services at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, which would then contact your family.
Your address during training will be:
Telephone service in Macedonia is generally good. If your residence does not have a phone and you would like one, the Peace Corps will have one installed for safety and security purposes and will cover the basic monthly service fee; any additional calls will be the Volunteer’s responsibility. Alternatively, you may choose to purchase a cellphone. Service is good and most Volunteers opt to purchase “prepaid” service. The monthly phone allowance from Peace Corps may be used to pay for cellphone time.
Long-distance calls outside Macedonia can be quite expensive. Services such as AT&T permit collect calls to be made from Macedonia to America. The AT&T access number when calling from Macedonia is 00.800.4288. AT&T calling cards can also be used, and it may be possible to connect to a call-back service.
Almost all communities of reasonable size have post offices (look for the yellow signs that say “PTT”) that provide telephone services as well as postal services.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
If you choose to bring a laptop computer and related equipment, note that the Peace Corps does not provide e-mail accounts or technical and repair support for Volunteers. While many Volunteers find computers useful, especially laptops, the Peace Corps does not consider them to be essential and cannot replace them in the case of loss or theft. If you do bring computer equipment, insurance is recommended.
Some, but not all, Volunteers have access to computers at their work sites, which may or may not have Internet and e-mail capabilities. Such equipment, however, is intended to be used primarily for work-related activities, and you should not assume that it can be used for personal purposes. Internet, including wireless, and e-mail access is available throughout Macedonia, and Internet cafes can be found in most major cities and towns.
Housing and Site Location
Housing must adhere to Peace Corps-defined standards and the Peace Corps staff visits all proposed living arrangements to evaluate their suitability. Most Volunteers live in small, modest apartments, either a studio or a one-bedroom with a kitchen, with basic furniture and provisions for security.
Volunteers should be prepared to serve in any region of Macedonia.
Living Allowance and Money Management
You will receive a monthly living allowance that is designed to enable you to maintain a modest lifestyle. This allowance is deposited in your bank account in denars every month and is intended to cover food, household supplies, local transportation, recreation, entertainment, and incidental expenses such as postage, film, reading material, stationery, 15 hours of Internet use per month, and toiletries. Rent and basic utilities are paid for by Peace Corps.
Lifestyles are different here than in the States, but most Volunteers who adopt a Macedonian lifestyle find their living allowance to be sufficient for their needs. In other words, the lifestyle you adopt while serving in Macedonia will largely determine the adequacy of the living allowance. If you choose to eat in restaurants daily, make long and numerous phone calls to friends and family in the United States, spend weekends visiting other Volunteers around the country, and insist on imported toiletries, foods, and other consumables, you are not likely to be able to survive very well on your living allowance. You may also have a harder time becoming a part of your community. If, instead, you adopt a more typical Macedonian lifestyle, your living allowance should be more than adequate.
The Peace Corps also provides a one-time settling-in allowance (approximately equivalent to $110 in denars) that will help you set up your home. It is meant to cover basic household items such as dishes, towels, sheets, and the like.
The exchange rate at the time of this writing is 48 denars to the U.S. dollar. Traveler’s checks and credit cards can be used in some locations in Skopje, particularly those that cater to tourists. ATMs are currently available in Skopje and Ohrid, and many larger cities. However, Volunteers who live in communities outside Skopje will make almost all of their financial transactions in Macedonia through bank transfers or in cash. A few large banks exist throughout Macedonia where Volunteers can open accounts into which their living allowance will be deposited. All Volunteer accounts are nonresident accounts and can maintain separate balances for local currency, U.S. dollars, euros, etc. Some Volunteers have found it useful to retain their checking accounts in the United States to pay bills in the U.S. or to access U.S. funds. Hard currencies such as dollars and euros should only be changed at banks and legal change bureaus; changing money on the street is illegal.
Food and Diet
You will not find many frozen or prepared foods in Macedonia, but a wide variety of delicious fresh food is always available if you know how to cook. “Homemade” is the best word to describe the fare on a Macedonian dining table. Peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbages, onions, garlic, meat (pork, chicken, lamb, beef) and oil are staples in Macedonian cooking. The meat most often found in restaurants and shops is pork, though chicken and fresh fish are also available. Sirenje and kashkaval (two types of cheese), eggs, milk, and yogurt (not the typical U.S. supermarket-style yogurt) are also a regular part of the Macedonian diet.
Vegetarians will not have difficulty maintaining a healthy diet if they cook at home. Lentils, processed tofu, beans, and rice are widely available, as are peanuts and other kinds of nuts. Eating out in a restaurant may be a little more difficult, since most of the menu will consist of meat dishes. You will never go wrong ordering a salad, tavche gravche (the traditional bean dish), and bread. You will even find vegetarian pizza at most pizzerias.
Along with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits are plentiful in season. Southeastern Macedonia is widely known for the production of fruits and vegetables. If you are not inclined to make your own juice and jam from these, these products are always available in local stores. It might be a good idea to learn to make a few of your favorite dishes before you move to your site, and you might want to bring the recipe for your favorite spaghetti sauce from home. Spaghetti can be purchased easily here, but you will have to make your own sauce.
Macedonia has a large network of bus and train routes, which makes it possible to travel to practically all destinations by public transportation. A few previous Volunteers have experienced thefts while traveling. As you would anywhere else, you must be vigilant in protecting your valuables while using public transportation.
Geography and Climate
Macedonia is influenced by a Mediterranean and Continental climate with four distinct seasons. As in the United States, weather patterns have been changing in recent years, so it is difficult to describe a “typical” year. July and August can be very hot and dry, with temperatures staying in the 90- to 100degree Fahrenheit range for a two-week period or longer. In the winter, the whole country can be blanketed in snow, with more snow in the north than in the south. Long underwear, winter boots, and a warm coat are necessities because of the inconsistency of heating. Because of the scarcity of air conditioning, comfortable, lightweight clothing is important for the summer months.
You will find no shortage of entertainment opportunities during your stay in Macedonia. There are museums, concerts, theaters, athletic events, hot springs, outdoor markets, historical and ethnographic centers, coffee shops, bars, discos, and cinemas for you to enjoy. Most recently released American films are shown in theaters in English with Macedonian subtitles.
Macedonia boasts some of the most magnificent natural areas in eastern Europe, with a great diversity of flora and fauna. Opportunities for outdoor recreation include hiking, camping, rock climbing, and bird-watching. During the summer, Macedonians flock to Lake Ohrid to enjoy its pristine waters and beautiful scenery. During the winter, Macedonia’s several ski resorts attract skiers from all over Europe.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and working as a professional. It is not an easy situation to resolve, and we can only provide you with general guidelines. While there is no hard-andfast rule, a foreigner who wears ragged or dirty clothing is likely to be considered disrespectful and possibly unreliable. Improper attire creates difficulties in gaining the respect and acceptance of your Macedonian and Albanian colleagues. You will have occasions to dress up regularly, so bring some more formal attire in addition to professional clothes appropriate for everyday wear in the office or classroom. Think business casual.
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Macedonia Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Macedonia. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction in Macedonia is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies may not always provide the support they have agreed to. The pace of work and life here is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and the local people may be hesitant to change long-held practices and traditions.
Volunteers are often given a high degree of responsibility and independence in their work, perhaps more than they have experienced in other jobs. Volunteers often find themselves in situations that require an ability to be self-motivated with little guidance from supervisors. You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving any feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress more often comes after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To overcome these difficulties you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness.
Macedonians are warm, friendly, hospitable people, and the Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Macedonia feeling that they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.