Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Moldova
From Peace Corps Wiki
Mail service in Moldova is not completely reliable. Letters to and from Moldova typically arrive in two to three weeks, but there is a high rate of letters and flat mail never reaching Volunteers. Letters to America have better success rates. Advise family friends not to send anything of value via flat mail. Packages generally arrive safely, although they are often opened at Customs and some contents are occasionally lost in transport. Check with your post office for the opportunity to use a free "flat-rate" envelope to mail up to four pounds for about $11. During pre-service training and service, letters should be sent to you at the following address:
“Your Name,” PCT
Str. Grigore Ureche 12
Packages sent to Moldova by airmail arrive as quickly as letters but can be quite expensive, costing as much as $7 per pound. During pre-service training, packages can be sent to the same address as letters. Once you move to your site, you can make arrangements to receive mail and packages there, or continue to receive mail at the Peace Corps office. Deliveries to the Peace Corps address tend to be more reliable.
Communication by telephone, both domestically and internationally, is more complicated in Moldova than in the United States but is still manageable. There are a number of ways to call the United States, but the cost can be high. American calling cards will not work in Moldova, but international phone cards can be purchased that will give you enough time to give your family your phone number and instructions on when to call you back. Normal calls to the U.S. can cost about 50 cents per minute; phone cards can be purchased that will cost about 15 cents to 20 cents per minute; phone calls via computers (Skype, etc.) can cost about 2 cents per minute or free for PC to PC (other than the cost of connecting to the Internet), Your home will have a phone, and you will find that many people (Moldovans, Volunteers, and others) have cellphones... International lines are clearest early in the mornings and on weekends. Moldovan time is seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Cellphones are not purchased for Volunteers by the Peace Corps. In most cases a cellphone purchased in the U.S. will not work in Moldova.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
The computerization of Moldova is progressing rapidly, so e-mail is the common way to stay in contact with friends and family in the United States. If you have a laptop computer, you should consider bringing it, although Internet service in villages is usually limited to dial-up service, which costs about 50 cents (U.S.) per hour. Volunteers can access e-mail at the Peace Corps office, and the number of cybercafés around the country is growing.
Note that the Peace Corps does not provide any reimbursement for lost or stolen computer equipment and cannot provide technical support or assistance with maintenance. Insurance against theft is a good idea.
Housing and Site Location
You will live with one host family during pre-service training and with another family for the first six months at your site. During training, the family is selected for you. However, at your site, several families will be identified for you to select from. You will have your own room but are likely to share bath and toilet facilities. There is seldom indoor plumbing in more rural areas, so you may not have running water. After your first six months at your site, you will have the option of finding other housing if it is available, meets the Peace Corps’ safety requirements, and is within the Peace Corps’ housing allowance. Many Volunteers choose to live with a family throughout their two years of service and find the experience a rewarding one. Peace Corps/Moldova will inform you of the trade-offs involved in housing decisions, including matters of safety and security, but the ultimate responsibility for finding housing after your first six months of service will be yours.
Life in Chisinau, the capital, varies considerably from life in villages, where the pace is slower, the atmosphere charmingly rustic, and the people generally more polite. But along with the great appeal of a gentler pace, villages in Moldova offer a somewhat arduous lifestyle. The primary forms of entertainment are socializing with friends and watching television. People live the life of a farm family even if they work in a profession such as teaching. Each household usually has a very large vegetable garden and all kinds of farm animals to care for. There is generally no running water, outhouses are the most common toilet facilities, and bathing is usually done once a week in a bathhouse or using buckets of water in a tub. Despite this lack of amenities, however, life in a village will be rich in traditional Moldovan customs and friendships with Moldovans.
Towns or regional centers may lack the compelling appeal of rural Moldova, but the pace is somewhat faster. There are more local resources and more forms of entertainment, and there is usually running water. Running water does not necessarily mean an indoor toilet, however, as the first priorities are the kitchen and the garden.
Streets and sidewalks are muddy for a large part of the year in towns and villages alike. Heating in winter can be problematic, as many municipalities cannot afford to turn on the heat until long after the weather has turned cold, and even then heating may be minimal or nonexistent for periods of time. For this reason, host families are required to have independent heating sources. Most families in villages rely on ceramic stoves built into the walls, known as sobas, which burn wood, coal, or corncobs. In larger towns or cities, houses may have their own gas boiler.
Living Allowance and Money Management
After pre-service training, you will receive a monthly living allowance in local currency that will allow you to maintain your health and safety while living at a standard comparable to your Moldovan counterparts.
Moldova has a cash economy, and Moldovan banks and currency exchange offices are stringent about the condition of the U.S. banknotes they will accept because of concerns about counterfeit currency. Make sure that any U.S. currency you bring is not worn, torn, or written on and that the bills are fairly new ones. A few banks accept traveler’s checks; others allow cash withdrawals via credit card or ATM card. ATM crimes are common, but there are increasing numbers of the machines in both Chisinau and regional centers. Volunteers are advised to be cautious about which machines they use.
We discourage you from having cash sent to you from home,
as sending money through international mail is risky. In an emergency, you can have money sent through Western Union or international bank transfer. Most businesses, including restaurants and hotels, do not accept traveler’s checks or credit cards. Those that do most commonly accept Visa.
It is also recommended that you keep a U.S.bank account with ATM capabilities to access money from home. It will be the easiest way to deposit your readjustment allowance when you complete your Volunteer service (versus having a check mailed to your home of record).
It is important to recognize that your Moldovan co-workers and friends will not have large sums of money or credit cards and that conspicuous displays of wealth on your part could drive a wedge between you and them. The Peace Corps strongly discourages you from living beyond your monthly allowance.
Food and Diet
Moldovans love to cook, and they love their guests to eat a lot. Many traditional Moldovan dishes have roots in the Slavic and Romanian cultures. Pork is the meat of choice, followed by chicken and turkey. Beef, although becoming more popular, may not be of the quality you are used to. The pork, however, tends to be tender and tasty.
The national dish of Moldova is mamaliga, which is made from cornmeal and tastes somewhat like polenta. It is served with soft cheese, meat, eggs, butter, or fish. Another interesting dish is achituri, which consists of chicken pieces in a brothlike jelly made of bone marrow and is usually served cold. Coltsunashi, which is similar to ravioli, is usually filled with potato, cheese, cabbage, and meat (or sometimes cherries) and served with butter or sour cream. Friptura is a beef or pork stew, sometimes baked with dough on top and usually served with vegetables. Similar to Greek dolmades, sarmale consists of grape leaves, green peppers, or cabbage stuffed with rice, meat, and vegetables. Moldovan barbecue is called frigarui or shashlik. Borsh is made with cabbage and other vegetables, and chiorba is made with meat, beans, and pasta. Zeama is a tasty chicken soup. Placinta, a baked or fried pastry, is filled with potato, cheese, cabbage, or fruit. Foods that should taste more familiar include brinza (a soft cow or sheep cheese), cashcaval (a hard, mild cheese), smintina (similar to sour cream), pilaf (rice with meat and vegetables), clatite (similar to crêpes), and tocanista (cooked vegetables).
Vegetarians may find it challenging to maintain their usual diet. It may also be difficult to explain why you are a vegetarian in a meat-and-potatoes culture. Although the concept of vegetarianism will not be entirely new to most Moldovans, you should expect some surprise and confusion. You will have to be clear about what you can and cannot eat (e.g., most soups have meat-based broths). You will also have to be sensitive and gracious when Moldovans try to prepare special food for you. If you offer to cook your own food, Moldovans will be curious to see how someone can actually prepare a dish with no meat. Yet many Moldovan dishes can easily be made without meat, so there is no reason why you cannot maintain a healthy vegetarian diet in Moldova. Vegans will have a more difficult time maintaining their diet and should consult the health unit in Moldova about their situation.
Operation of motor vehicles of any kind (i.e., cars, motor scooters, and motorcycles) is prohibited for Peace Corps Volunteers. Violation of this policy will result in termination of your service. Although you may ride a bicycle, Peace Corps policy mandates the use of a bicycle helmet, which the Peace Corps provides, at all times.
You will rely mostly on public transportation in Moldova. All the towns and villages in which Volunteers are placed have regularly scheduled bus or “maxi-taxi” service to Chisinau and other towns. In the case of an emergency, Peace Corps staff can get to any site within four hours by car.
Geography and Climate
The landscape of Moldova consists of hilly plains with an average altitude of about 150 meters (495 feet) above sea level, which flatten gradually toward the southwest. Old forests called codrii cover the central part of the country. Moldova is in an earthquake zone connected to the Carpathian Mountains. The last major earthquake occurred in 1989.
Moldova’s two major rivers are the Nistru and the Prut, and a short span of the Danube crosses the extreme southern part of the republic. There are more than 3,000 small rivers or tributaries, of which only seven are longer than 50 miles. Moldova has more than 50 natural lakes and is rich in mineral-water springs.
The country has a temperate climate with four definite seasons; some Volunteers liken it to Minnesota. Summers are warm and humid, with an average high temperature in July of 80 degrees Fahrenheit; hot days in the 90s are not unusual. Winters are cold. Temperatures can remain below zero degrees Fahrenheit for weeks, and although snowfall is not extreme, it can remain on the ground for a month or more. Some offices and classrooms are poorly heated during the winter, requiring Volunteers to dress warmly for work. Spring and autumn are usually beautiful with mild temperatures.
Chisinau, the capital, offers a wide variety of cultural and entertainment possibilities, such as opera, ballet, theater, circuses, and nightclubs (at which Moldovans love to dance). The options decrease, however, in proportion to the population of the community. In towns, there are cinemas, community centers, and universities at which plays, concerts, and other cultural events are occasionally presented. In villages, people socialize with relatives and friends, getting together in someone’s home for fun and relaxation.
There are also a growing number of cafes and bars in Moldova, which offer alcoholic drinks ranging from vodka to champagne, and Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fanta, cigarettes, and snack foods like pizza.
It is extremely important to develop groups for social interaction, whether you live in a town or a village. Generally speaking, you should not expect to socialize with many single people of your own age. Moldovans tend to marry young and to stay married, so many young adults are likely to be married and have small children. Any single friends will probably be students.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
One of the challenges of being a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and acting as a professional all at the same time. It is not an easy situation to resolve, and we can only provide you with guidelines. As a member or representative of a school faculty, business development center, nongovernmental organization, farmers’ association, or health center, you will be expected to display sensitivity and respect toward your supervisor and colleagues in order to develop mutually beneficial working relationships.
As a rule, Moldovans give a lot of attention to the way they dress. Dressing professionally and neatly is regarded as a sign of respect toward others and is important for gaining credibility with Moldovans. This cannot be overestimated. In general terms, Americans tend to dress casually and place more emphasis on what a person knows and what a person can do rather than on outward appearances. It can be difficult for Americans to understand the cultural significance of dressing appropriately and dressing well. Nonetheless, it is an expectation for Volunteers in Moldova to dress professionally when at the workplace. The more quickly you can adapt to this norm, the more easily you will integrate into your living and working communities in Moldova. Please plan the wardrobe you will bring with you accordingly. Obvious and multiple facial piercings are not acceptable for Volunteers serving in Moldova and highly visible tatoos may also need to be covered. Please contact the country desk if you have any questions.
Teachers in Moldova tend to dress more formally than teachers do in the United States. Business casual is the appropriate attire for men, whether working for a nongovernmental organization or a school. Most women may wear professional-looking dresses or skirts and tops, but nice slacks are also acceptable in most places.
Another cultural issue that you will need to manage is the drinking of alcohol. This is an extremely delicate issue in Moldova because you must strike a balance between being an active participant in Moldovan culture while appropriately representing Americans and the Peace Corps. Many Moldovans make their own wine, and they will want you to try it. Being very good hosts, they will make sure that your glass is always full and insist that you keep drinking. You will have to decide for yourself how much it is appropriate to drink or learn to refuse politely but firmly if you do not want to drink at all. While cultural sensitivity and social graces are important, it is more important that you know your limits and not endanger your health or your safety, or those of others.
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined 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 the vast majority of 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 Moldova. These policies include limits on your travel within Moldova, when you can be out of the country, and the need to keep Peace Corps informed of your whereabouts. Such policies can be frustrating for Volunteers, but they are meant not only for your safety, but to ensure that your service is productive and rewarding. 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 Moldova is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support they promised. In addition, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and some people you work with may be hesitant to change long-held practices and traditions, including some stemming from the Soviet era.
You will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will have. You will often find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your counterparts with little guidance from supervisors. You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress most 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. Moldovans are warm, friendly, and hospitable, 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 rewards of service are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Moldova 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.