Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Macedonia
- 1 Communications
- 2 Housing and Site Location
- 3 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 4 Food and Diet
- 5 Transportation
- 6 Geography and Climate
- 7 Social Activities
- 8 Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
- 9 Personal Safety
- 10 Rewards and Frustrations
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:
REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA
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. Cellphones are the primary means of communication between you and the Peace Corps office in Skopje, so in reality they are a requirement. Most Volunteers opt to purchase “prepaid” service, however buying a two-year contract may be a better option. The monthly phone allowance from Peace Corps includes money for a cellphone. Most homes do not have landlines and are not necessary. Cell service in Macedonia is some of the best in Europe and used by almost everyone of all ages. If the cellphone you are using in America has a SIM card you may be able to use the phone in Macedonia, bring it with you it is worth a try.
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. SKYPE and Tango are the preferred methods of communication inside and outside of Macedonia. You should arrange to have these services before you leave home and encourage family and friends you want to communicate with to subscribe to them as well.
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 a must, especially laptops, the Peace Corps does not consider them to be an essential item and will not replace them in the case of loss or theft. Peace Corps volunteers in Macedonia highly recommend bringing a laptop. 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 for living conditions, safety and security and the Peace Corps staff visits all proposed living arrangements to evaluate their suitability. As of 2013 all new arriving Volunteers will be required to live in a home-stay environment. Be prepared to live with a family, regardless of your age or situation. Living conditions range from a small bedroom to a floor below or above the host family's living area.
Volunteers should be prepared to serve in any region of Macedonia from a small village of 50 people to the capitol Skopje.
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 (Peace Corps will establish one when you arrive in country) in local currency every month and is intended to cover food, household supplies, local transportation, recreation, entertainment, and incidental expenses such as postage, reading material, stationery, Internet and cell phone usage per month, and toiletries. Rent and basic utilities are paid for by Peace Corps and deposited to your bank account every quarter.
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, 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. As all Volunteers will be in a home-stay environment this allowance may be discontinued.
The exchange rate at the time of this writing is 47 denars to the U.S. dollar. Traveler’s checks (not as usable) and credit cards can be used in most locations in Skopje, particularly those that cater to tourists. ATMs are available in all towns and cities throughout Macedonia. If one is not in the community in which you live Peace Corps will provide funds for you to travel to the closest town that has an ATM. However. Peace Corps will assist you in opening a debit card access account into which your 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. “Homemade” is the best word to describe the fare on a Macedonian dining table. Peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbages, onions, garlic, meat (pork (not in Muslim communities), chicken, lamb, goat and beef) and lots of 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. 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. Bread, generally white only, is a staple at each meal and readily consumed. In many households it is made fresh a couple of times per week or purchased fresh from a local shop.
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.
Macedonians eat their big meal in the late afternoon after work around 4-5 pm. This meal will generally consist of salad, bread, soup, cheese and possibly meat of some kind. Rajkia, the local brew, is generally had with the salad and beer, soda or water with the main course.They may eat another smaller meal around 8 or 9 consisting of a salad and bread and cheese. Breakfast is generally eaten at work around 10 and is coffee and some sort of bread.
Macedonia has a large network of bus routes most of which are privately owned, which makes it possible to travel to practically all destinations by public transportation.Train service is sporadic and runs to the Greek border in the south and into only one or two areas in the north. You will encounter travel by "combi" a van that can seat 15-20 passengers. You will soon get comfortable with crowding and standing room only transportation, but it is the only way to get around. 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.
Flying from Skopje to other parts of Europe is easy and inexpensive. There are many flights per day from Skopje. Be aware there are numerous "miscellaneous" charges, ticket fee, gate fee, seat assignment fee, baggage fee (even for carry ons), fuel surcharge, tax,and any other kind of fee you could imagine.
Geography and Climate
Macedonia is influenced by a Mediterranean and Continental climate with four distinct seasons. Climate and flora and fauna are very similar to the Pacific Northwest and upper-East coast states. 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 110 degree Fahrenheit range for a two-month period or longer. In the winter, the whole country can be blanketed in snow, with more snow in the north than in the south. Dressing in layers is recommended. 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-and fast 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. However, in general Macedonian dress is casual with jeans the article of choice. You will have occasions to dress up, so bring some more formal attire (sport coat, shirt and tie for men and skirt or dress for women are sufficient) 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 over-emphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (often times 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.