Volunteers currently serving in México are applying new approaches and technologies to address the needs of the country. Currently, the Peace Corps is working in collaboration with government ministries, schools, and local organizations to carry out projects in environmental education, small business development, technology transfer, and environmental conservation. The PC México is unique in that the host country agency (CONACYT or SEMARNAT) selects volunteers with very specialized skills.
- 1 PEACE CORPS / MEXICO HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
- 2 COUNTRY OVERVIEW: MEXICO AT A GLANCE
- 3 RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
- 4 LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
- 4.1 Communications
- 4.2 Mail
- 4.3 Telephones
- 4.4 Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
- 4.5 Housing and Site Location
- 4.6 Living Allowance and Money Management
- 4.7 Food and Diet
- 4.8 Transportation
- 4.9 Geography and Climate
- 4.10 Social Activities
- 4.11 Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
- 4.12 Personal Safety
- 4.13 Rewards and Frustrations
- 5 PEACE CORPS TRAINING
- 6 YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN MEXICO
- 6.1 Health Issues in Mexico
- 6.2 Helping You Stay Healthy
- 6.3 Maintaining Your Health
- 6.4 Women’s Health Information
- 6.5 Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
- 6.6 Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
- 6.7 Safety and Security—Our Partnership
- 6.8 Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
- 6.9 Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
- 6.10 Support from Staff
- 6.11 Security Issues in Mexico
- 6.12 Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
- 6.13 Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Mexico
- 7 DIVERSITY AND CROSSCULTURAL ISSUES
- 7.1 Overview of Diversity in Mexico
- 7.2 What Might a Volunteer Face?
- 7.2.1 Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
- 7.2.2 Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
- 7.2.3 Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
- 7.2.4 Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
- 7.2.5 Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
- 7.2.6 Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
- 7.2.7 Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
- 8 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- 8.1 How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Mexico?
- 8.2 What is the electric current in Mexico?
- 8.3 How much money should I bring?
- 8.4 When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
- 8.5 Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
- 8.6 Do I need an international driver’s license?
- 8.7 What should I bring as gifts for Mexico friends and my host family?
- 8.8 Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
- 8.9 How can my family contact me in an emergency?
- 8.10 Can I call home from Mexico?
- 8.11 Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
- 9 PACKING LIST
- 10 PRE-DEPARTURE CHECKLIST
- 11 Peace Corps News
- 12 Country Fund
- 13 See also
- 14 External links
PEACE CORPS / MEXICO HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Mexico
Although the Peace Corps was founded 50 years ago, 2004 marked the first entry of Peace Corps into Mexico. This initiative originated in 2001 when Mexico President Vicente Fox and U.S. President George W. Bush signed the Partnership for Prosperity, an agreement that envisioned several initiatives to strengthen cooperation between the two nations.
After several months of negotiations and a strong interest on the part of the Mexican Presidency and the White House, a memorandum of understanding was signed in June 2003 under which the Peace Corps and Mexico’s National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT) agreed to investigate areas of cooperation. The Peace Corps sent an assessment team to Mexico in August 2003 to explore how such cooperation might be achieved. The results of this mission were highly encouraging and resulted in a request for the Peace Corps to enter Mexico for the first time. CONACYT, in particular, expressed a strong interest in working with Peace Corps technical Volunteers and designated several of its 27 technology centers as pilot sites.
CONACYT is a government institution, devoted to research and development in support of Mexico’s technical, industrial and scientific development. The current leadership of CONACYT is intent on increasing the application of its research and knowledge to the economic needs of Mexican society. CONACYT reports directly to the Mexican President’s office and therefore is given high priority by the government.
The centers that Peace Corps works with are focused on technological development and the transfer of these technologies to clients, which are mostly medium- to large-sized businesses and local and state governments. These highly sophisticated research and development institutions are involved in both basic and applied technologies. (For more information, see the CONACYT website: http://www.conacyt.mx/).
In November 2003, an agreement between CONACYT and the Peace Corps was signed under which the Peace Corps would select highly experienced and academically qualified Volunteers to work for a period of two years at designated technology centers and with their clients on specific priorities. In August 2004, the Peace Corps established and staffed its office in Querétaro, an important city two hours drive north of México City, in anticipation of the arrival of the first group of trainees. After completing a three-month training program in Querétaro, 11 trainees were sworn in as Volunteers and began their service in early January 2005 in the central region of Mexico.
Future of Peace Corps Programming in Mexico
In the coming years, Peace Corps/Mexico will focus more intently on the longer term development strategy for our contribution to Mexico. Based on the lessons and observations gleaned from our initial experience working both with CONACYT’s technology centers as well as in our designated sectors, we will seek to experiment innovatively with different types of interaction. During our first year, we have been able to recognize some of the barriers that CONACYT is confronting in its efforts to make science and technology relevant to Mexico’s economic transformation.
As with institutions in every country, change often comes slowly and with some difficulty. CONACYT has been given a mission that reaches beyond pure research and development. Among many objectives, a specific mission is to contribute substantively to Mexico’s competitiveness in the world economy and to assist both the public and private sectors in protecting Mexico’s environment and water resources as its economy develops. A critical process is therefore to help in CONACYT’s own organizational development so it is better equipped to address these problems.
Therefore, Peace Corps has a complex challenge in Mexico, namely to closely observe how our host organization operates and discern how best we can assist it to meet its goals. You have been selected because you bring with you practical experience from another context, another culture, that might make important contributions to Mexico’s own efforts. However, we are not here to tell our Mexican counterparts how best to do their jobs, but to work with them, as equal partners, to devise innovative approaches. The learning process applies to both sides, and you are here to learn from your Mexican counterparts as much as they are eager to learn from you.
You are soon to immerse yourselves in a rich and rewarding professional and cultural experience. You will be part of this longer-term strategy development process, which we hope will have implications for many development activities around the world, not only for the Peace Corps but for the United States as a whole.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: MEXICO AT A GLANCE
It’s thought that the first people to inhabit Mexico arrived 20,000 years before Columbus. Their descendants built a succession of highly developed civilizations that flourished from 1200 BC to 1521 AD. The first ancestral civilization to arise was that of the Olmecs (1200 BC–600 BC), in the humid lowlands of southern Veracruz and Tabasco. By 300 BC they were joined by the Zapotecs of Oaxaca, and the community from the temple center of Izapa (200 BC to 200 AD). By 250 AD the Maya were building stepped temple pyramids in the Yucatán Peninsula. Central Mexico’s first great civilization flourished at Teotihuacán between 250 AD and 600 AD, to be followed by the Toltecs at Xochicalco and Tula. The Aztecs were successors to this string of empires, settling at Tenochtitlán in the early 14th century.
Almost 3,000 years of civilization was shattered in just two short years, following the landing by Hernán Cortés near modern-day Veracruz on April 21, 1519. Primary sources suggest that the Aztecs were initially accommodating because, according to their calendar, the year 1519 promised the god Quetzalcóatl’s return from the east. The Spaniards met their first allies in towns that resented Aztec domination. With 6,000 local recruits, they approached the Aztecs’ island capital of Tenochtitlán—a city bigger than any in Spain. King Moctezuma II invited the party into his palace and the Spaniards promptly took him hostage. By August 13, 1521, Aztec resistance had ended. The position of the conquered peoples deteriorated rapidly, not only because of harsh treatment at the hands of the colonists but also because of introduced diseases. The indigenous population fell from an estimated 25 million at the time of conquest to one million by 1605.
From the 16th century until the 19th century, a sort of apartheid system existed in Mexico. Spanish-born colonists were a minuscule part of the population but were considered nobility in New Spain (as Mexico was then called), however humble their status in their home country. By the 18th century, criollos (people born of Spanish parents in New Spain) had acquired fortunes in mining, commerce, ranching and agriculture, and were seeking political power commensurate with their wealth. Below the criollos were the mestizos, of mixed Spanish and indigenous or African slave ancestry, and at the bottom of the pile were the remaining indigenous people and African slaves. The catalyst for rebellion came in 1808 when Napoleon Bonaparte occupied most of Spain. Direct Spanish control over New Spain suddenly ceased and rivalry between Spanish-born colonists and criollos intensified. On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a criollo parish priest, issued his call to rebellion, the Grito de Dolores. In 1821, Spain agreed to Mexican independence.
Twenty-two years of chronic instability followed independence:
the presidency changed hands 36 times. In 1845, the U.S. Congress voted to annex Texas, leading to the Mexican-American War in which U.S. troops captured Mexico City.
Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), Mexico ceded California, Colorado, Texas, Utah, and most of New Mexico and Arizona to the U.S. The Maya rose up against their overlords in the late 1840s and almost succeeded in driving them off the Yucatán Peninsula. By 1862, Mexico was heavily in debt to Britain, France, and Spain, and these nations sent a joint force to Mexico to collect their debts. France decided to go one step further and colonize Mexico, sparking yet another war. In 1864, France invited the Austrian archduke, Maximilian of Habsburg, to become emperor of Mexico. His reign ended bloodily by forces loyal to the country’s former president, Benito Juárez, a Zapotec from Oaxaca.
With the slogan “order and progress,” dictator Porfirio Díaz, who ruled from 1878 to 1911, avoided war and piloted Mexico into the industrial age. Political opposition, free elections, and a free press were banned, and control was maintained by a ruthless army, leading to strikes that prefigured the Mexican Revolution.
The Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) was a period of shifting allegiances among a spectrum of leaders in which successive attempts to create stable governments were derailed by new skirmishes. The basic ideological rift was between liberal reformers and more radical leaders, such as Emiliano Zapata, who were fighting for the transfer of hacienda land to the peasants. The 10 years of violent civil war cost an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million lives—roughly one of every eight Mexicans. After the revolution, political will was focused on rebuilding the national infrastructure. Precursors of today’s PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) took power in 1934, introducing a program of reform and land redistribution. Civil unrest next appeared in 1966, when university students in Mexico City expressed their outrage with the conservative Gustavo Díaz Ordaz administration. Discontent with single-party rule, restricted freedom of speech, and excessive government spending came to a head in 1968 in the run-up to the Mexico City Olympic Games, and protesters were massacred by armed troops.
The oil boom of the late 1970s increased Mexico’s oil revenues and financed industrial and agricultural investments, but the oil glut in the mid 1980s deflated petroleum prices and led to Mexico’s worst recession in decades. The economic downturn also saw an increase in organized political dissent on both the left and right. The massive earthquake of September 1985 caused massive damage. At least 10,000 people died, hundreds of buildings in Mexico City were destroyed, and thousands of people were made homeless.
President Carlos Salinas de Gortari began his term in 1988 after very controversial elections. He gained popular support by renegotiating Mexico’s crippling national debt and bringing rising inflation under control. A sweeping privatization program and a burgeoning international finance market led to Mexico being heralded in the international press as an exemplar of free-market economics. The apex of Salinas’s economic reform was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which came into effect on January 1, 1994.
Fears that NAFTA would increase the marginalization of indigenous Mexicans led to the Zapatista uprising in the southernmost state of Chiapas. The day NAFTA took effect, a huge army of unarmed peasants calling themselves the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) shocked Mexico by taking over San Cristóbal de Las Casas. Their demands focused on improved social and economic justice. The EZLN were driven out of town within a few days, but the uprising struck a chord among all those who felt that the gap between rich and poor was widening under Salinas and NAFTA.
In March 1994, Luis Donaldo Colósio, Salinas’s chosen successor, was assassinated. His replacement, 43-year-old Ernesto Zedillo, was elected with 50 percent of the vote. Days after President Zedillo took office, Mexico’s currency, the peso, suddenly collapsed, bringing on a rapid and deep economic recession. Among other things, it led to a huge increase in crime, intensified discontent with the PRI, and caused large-scale Mexican immigration to the U.S. By 1997, more than 2.5 million Mexicans were entering the U.S. illegally each year. Zedillo’s policies pulled Mexico gradually out of recession. Despite a hiccup caused by international economic factors in 1998, by the end of his term in 2000, the purchasing power for Mexicans was again approaching 1994 levels.
In the freest and fairest national election since the Mexican Revolution, National Action Party (PAN) presidential candidate, and former Coca-Cola executive Vicente Fox, beat Zedillo’s hand-picked successor, PRI candidate Francisco Labastida, in 2000 ending the PRI’s 71-year reign; however, it remains the chief opposition party. President Fox has sought to emphasize Mexico’s role as a world player, and he has strongly supported the U.S. since the terrorist attacks on September 11.
Mexico is a federal republic governed under a constitution promulgated in 1917, as amended. National executive power is vested in a president, who must be Mexican-born and the child of a native Mexican. The president is popularly elected for a six-year term and may never be reelected. The president appoints the cabinet, which is confirmed by the Congress. Legislative power is vested in a bicameral Congress. The upper house, the Senate, has 128 members popularly elected for six-year terms. Three senators are elected from each state and from the federal district, for a total of 96 seats, with two seats going to the party that wins the most votes in that state, and one seat allocated to the second-place party; the remaining 32 seats are elected by national party list. The lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, is where legislative power in the states is vested. It is made up of 500 members elected to three-year terms. Three hundred are elected from single-member districts based on population; the rest are elected according to proportional representation by party list.
Each state is subdivided into municipios (municipalities); in all, the country has about 2,400 municipalities. Senators and deputies may not serve two consecutive terms.
The chief executive of each of the country’s 31 states is a governor, popularly elected to a six-year term; the mayor of Mexico City has been popularly elected since 1997.
The country’s highest tribunal is the Supreme Court of Justice, composed of 11 full-time members appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate; each member serves a non-renewable 15-year term. Other important judicial bodies include circuit courts and district courts.
For most of the 20th century, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party; PRI) was the largest and most important political party in Mexico. It was formed in 1928 as the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (National Revolutionary Party) and held power continuously for more than seven decades, although under several different names. Not until the 1980s did opposition parties represent a serious challenge to the PRI. Chief among them was the Partido de Acción Nacional (National Action Party; PAN), a conservative, pro-Catholic group drawn primarily from the middle class. In the 1994 elections, the PRI finished first and the PAN second; a center-left group, the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Democratic Revolutionary Party; PRD) was third. Although PRI finished ahead of PRD and PAN in the elections of July 1997, the party for the first time failed to win an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies. In the presidential election of July 2000, the PRI nominee lost to the candidate of the Alliance for Change, a coalition that included PAN. The PRI and PRD each gained seats at the expense of PAN in the legislative elections of July 2003. Mexico’s current president is Vicente Fox of PAN. The next elections are to be held in July 2006.
Mexico has a free market economy with a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by the private sector. Recent administrations have sold off most state-owned enterprises and expanded competition in seaports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity generation, natural gas distribution, and airports. Per capita income is one-fourth that of the U.S.; income distribution remains highly unequal and most Mexicans (who are employed) earn less than eight dollars a day. Mexico was badly affected by the 1987 worldwide stock-market crisis, eventually incurring huge debts. Problems at the end of 1994 led to a financial collapse. Mexico’s economy is driven by tourism, industrial production, oil and gas production, textiles and clothing, and agriculture. The most important sources of foreign exchange are petroleum, tourism, and remittances from Mexicans working abroad, primarily in the United States.
Mexico is gradually diversifying its economy away from the primary sectors of agriculture and mining to manufacturing. Many overseas companies are investing in Mexico, particularly in the automobile and household electronics industries. NAFTA has had a tremendous influence on Mexico’s economy and the lives of the average person. The U.S. is Mexico’s most important trading partner and many U.S. manufacturers take advantage of lower wage costs and fewer regulations by locating maquiladoras (assembly plants) south of the border.
More than two-thirds of Mexico’s population lives in cities, with the highest proportion of the workforce employed in the service sector and about one-fifth in industry. About one-third of the working population is engaged in farming, forestry, and fishing, but this percentage continues to drop. The diversity of climate and soils facilitates the production and export of a wide selection of agricultural goods. Just about every kind of fruit and vegetable is grown on large modern irrigated farms as well as small family plots. The agricultural sector also includes ranches with large herds of beef cattle. Mexican fisheries produce shrimp, prawns, oysters, sardines, and tuna.
Mexico has an abundance of natural resources. It is the world’s greatest producer of silver, and also produces zinc, lead, gold, mercury, coal and copper. However, its primary financial asset since the 1970s has been petroleum. More than 70 percent of its revenue comes from exporting petroleum to the U.S. and other countries. Mexico has one-fifth of the world’s oil reserves. Oil production plays a major part in the Mexican economy; and the country also mines one-fifth of the world’s supply of silver. Other minerals commercially exploited include sulphur, lead, zinc, copper, gold, uranium, mercury, iron and coal. Mexico has a flourishing crafts industry making items such as pottery and furniture.
Rapid population growth has caused high levels of unemployment with many people trying to obtain work, often illegally, in the neighboring U.S. An important source of hard currency, particularly for Mexicans from rural areas, is the money sent back to the country by family members working in the U.S.
People and Culture
Mexican culture is known for the unified nature of the family.
The country’s divorce rate is among the lowest in the world (0.33 divorces per 1,000 population, compared to 4.95 in the United States). Children regularly live with their parents until they marry, even if they remain single until their 30s or later.
It is also quite common for family units to remain connected, often with grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and children all living in the same area or even in the same house. Loyalty within the family is absolute—brothers will fight for the honor of their sisters, and family members are often tapped for employment opportunities.
The roles of the parents in Mexican culture are generally well-defined, with the father acting as the head of the family and the mother as the heart of the family. In traditional family settings, machismo (male chauvinism) is quite common, with the father exercising strong authority. A mother is often exclusively responsible for maintaining the household and caring for the children.
As influences from the United States and the rest of the world continue to shape Mexican culture, machismo is slowly becoming more recognized and despised. This is especially evident in the northern part of the country where there is significant American influence and in larger metropolitan cities throughout Mexico. In southern and more rural communities, these basic behaviors continue to exist.
In traditional Mexican culture, it is generally considered unacceptable to show weakness or open oneself to others outside of the family. As a result, a strong sense of community is not a characteristic of Mexican culture, because strong friendships cannot be built without some level of intimacy. Relationships are generally approached with a measure of distrust because of fear of betrayal, which for a Mexican is one of the most humiliating experiences.
Lack of faith in the government and other organizations is also the result of widespread political corruption. Even police officers will readily accept mordidas (bribes) from those wishing to avoid the nuisance of a traffic ticket or a night in prison. In recent years, the government has begun addressing this corruption by reducing the number of state-owned businesses and calling on Mexicans to refuse to give bribes. This, however, has proven difficult, and the progress has been slow.
Mexico’s relationships with the rest of the world are also quite complex. The arrival and conquest of the Spaniards left the country searching for an identity—as a result of extensive inbreeding with the Spanish (the vast majority of Mexicans are mestizo, that is, mixed blood), they lost their native heritage, but similarly are not like their European conquerers. Today, the Spanish are generally admired, since they are descendants of the people who brought civilization to Mexico and were so involved in the development of the country for hundreds of years.
Gringos (people from the United States) are also often treated well. However, many Mexicans have not forgiven the United States for taking half their land as a result of the Meican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. U.S.-Mexico political and economic relations remain on the forefront for both nations. The inevitable tensions in the increasingly complex bilateral economic relationship have mostly been dealt with within the context of the institutional tools created by NAFTA. Proposals to address cross-border migration have surfaced in recent years and cooperation on security matters and drug trafficking has never been better.
During the Spanish conquest and colonization of Mexico, Roman Catholicism was established as the dominant religion of Mexico, and today, about 89 percent of Mexicans identify themselves as Catholics. Evangelical denominations have grown in recent years, to about 6 percent of the population, after being introduced by missionaries and settlers from Europe and the United States in the 19th century. Other religions make up the remaining 5 percent, with the most notable growth among the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The methods of Spanish domination of the indigenous Mexican people often resulted in forced conversions to Catholicism, which ultimately meant that the people continued in their previous belief system. This led to widespread religious syncretism, since indigenous religious practices were incorporated into the practices of Catholicism. It also explains the general lack of conviction among Mexican Catholics today—instead of being a religion that was chosen by individuals, it was forced upon a whole group.
Perhaps the most striking example of this fusion of different traditions is the widespread veneration of the Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Day of the Dead is another example of religious syncretism, in which the European Catholic All Saints Day is combined with indigenous rites of ancestor veneration. In many Mexican communities, curanderos (traditional healers) use indigenous folk medicine, spiritual, and Christian faith healing to treat ailments and “cleanse” spiritual impurities.
Mexico is known worldwide for its folk art traditions, mostly derived from a combination of indigenous and Spanish crafts.
Particularly notable among handicrafts are the clay pottery made in the valley of Oaxaca and the bird and animal figures made in the village of Tomala. Colorfully embroidered cotton garments, cotton or wool shawls and outer garments, and colorful baskets and rugs are seen everywhere. Between the Spanish conquest and the early 20th century, Mexican fine arts were largely in imitation of European traditions. After the Mexican Revolution, a new generation of Mexican artists led a vibrant national movement that incorporated political, historic, and folk themes into their work. The painters Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros became world famous for their grand-scale murals, often displaying clear social messages. Rufino Tamayo and Frida Kahlo (Rivera’s wife) produced more personal works with abstract and surreal elements. Mexican art photography was largely fostered by the work of Manuel Álvarez Bravo.
Literature and Poetry
Mexico has a long and distinguished literary tradition. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651–1695), a nun in colonial Mexico, wrote many fine poems and won fame for her defense of women’s rights. José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi (1776–1827) is often considered the first important Hispanic American novelist for his satirical novel El Periquillo Sarniento (The Itching Parrot). The poet Octavio Paz won the Nobel literature prize in 1990.
Mexico is one of the Earth’s most biodiverse countries with approximately 25 percent of the world’s flora and fauna existing within its borders. Mexico’s unique topography, with at least four major mountain chains (the Sierra Madres) and peaks up to 18,871 feet, its position as a land bridge between Central and North America, its varied geology, and its diversity of climatic zones provide the environmental conditions for a wide range of temperate, desert, and tropical flora and fauna. Unfortunately, much of Mexico’s biodiversity and its ecological services are currently imperiled by a number of anthropogenic factors.
Despite Mexico’s apparent abundance of natural resources and large land mass, its environment is increasingly under threat. Some environmental issues include increasing urbanization; industrial and consumer waste, in some cases extremely hazardous; declining availability and quality of freshwater and depleting groundwater; air pollution, particularly in cities; and deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, and desertification. Although Mexico has made some progress in dealing with these threats over the last decade by developing the legal framework and the institutions to address these issues, a great deal remains to be done.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
The following is a list of websites that contain additional information about the Peace Corps and Mexico and help connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that although we try to make sure all these links are active and current, we cannot guarantee it. If you do not have access to the Internet, visit your local library. Libraries offer free Internet usage and often let you print information to take home.
A note of caution: As you surf the Internet, be aware that you may find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to express opinions about the Peace Corps based on their own experience, including comments by those who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. These opinions are not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government, and we hope you will keep in mind that no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information about Mexico
Most of the following sites are in Spanish but have English sections, too.
Links to sites pertaining to Mexico
Mexico: Travel and tourism, culture, history
Road maps, city maps
Links to sites pertaining to Mexico
Link to one of the main television stations in Mexico, Televisa
Site with information on museums in Mexico
Diverse information for travelers to Mexico
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in the capital of Mexico to how to convert from the dollar to the Mexico currency. Just click on Mexico and go from there.
Visit this site for general travel advice about almost any country in the world.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background and travel notes periodically about countries around the world.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments worldwide.
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information, and each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political background.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the UN.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information for 228 countries.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local Volunteer activities. (Please note, since Peace Corps/Mexico is a new program, there is not yet a “Friends of Mexico” group.)
This site is known as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Web Ring. Browse the Web ring and see what former Volunteers are saying about their service.
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts of their Peace Corps service.
A Spanish school in Mexico started by a from Mexico PCV. In recent years the schools has moved online and offers other languages, but Spanish is still their bread and butter.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Mexico
International Development Sites about Mexico
Conservation International’s website with Mexico programs
The Inter-American Development Bank web page for Mexico
The Mexican Secretariat of Social Development website (in Spanish)
The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Mexico website
The World Bank website for Latin America/Caribbean countries
- Arguedas, José. Deep Rivers. Waveland Pr Inc., 2002
- Franz, Carl. The People’s Guide to Mexico. Emeryville, Calif.: Avalon Travel Publishing, 2000.
- Cohan, Tony. On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel. New York, NY: Random House, 2000.
- Cummings, Joe. Moon Handbooks: Mexico. Emeryville, Calif.: Avalon Travel Publishing, 1999.
- Paz, Octavio. The Labyrinth of Solitude: And Other Writings. New York: Grove Press, 1985.
- Peterson, Roger. A Field Guide to Mexican Birds. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
- Riding, Alan. Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans. New York, Random House, 2000.
- Simon, Joel. Endangered Mexico: An Environment on the Edge. San Francisco, CA. Sierra Books for Children: 1998.
- Simonian, Lane. Defending the Land of the Jaguar: A History of Conservation in Mexico. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1995.
Books About the Peace Corps
- Banerjee, Dillon. So You Want to Join the Peace Corps: What to Know Before You Go. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2000.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. Picador, 2003.
- Herrera, Susana. Mango Elephants in the Sun: How Life in an African Village Let Me Be in My Skin. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on theYangtze. New York: Harper Perennial, 2001
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960s. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Lucas, C. Payne, and Kevin Lowther. Keeping Kennedy’s Promise: The Peace Corps’ Moment of Truth (2nd edition). Peace Corps Online, 2002.
- Redmon, Coates. Come as You Are: The Peace Corps Story. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, 1986.
- Thomsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1969, 1997.
- Tidwell, Mike. The Ponds of Kalambayi: An African Sojourn. Guilford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 1990, 1996.
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Mail received at the Peace Corps office will be dropped off three times weekly at the training center. The Peace Corps driver will retrieve incoming mail from the post office twice a week. The mail system in Mexico works well; however, it is more expense than mailing in the United States and takes longer. Mail from the U.S. to Mexico takes about 10 days.
“Your name,” PCT
Cuerpo de Paz
Av. Universidad Oriente 202
Colonia San Javier
76020 Queretaro, Queretaro
Telmex is the largest landline phone service provider in Mexico and most houses and businesses use it. Service costs about $15 per month and includes 100 local calls. You can also get special rates for long distance service.
The largest providers for cell service are Telcel, which has the best coverage, but expensive rates; and Movistar, which covers most cities, towns and regions in the country. Nextel was the first company with radio service, but it only offers contracts. Cellphones are not issued, but there is a modest amount included in your Volunteer allowance for general communications, telephone, and Internet service.
Another cellphone company is IUSACELL, which is arguably the best service for volunteers. The network serves both CDMA and GSM phones, meaning you can bring any phone from the United States and have it programmed for use on their network (eg. Verizon, Sprint, AT&T). Smartphones are also supported, with unlimited internet for $250 pesos per month. Texts to both phones in country, and to the US, are only 1 peso. Calls are 2.33 pesos per minute, and free to receive. The best perk for volunteers is that in-network calls are free, meaning that if all volunteers used IUSACELL, cell phone expenses would be extremely minimal.
The telephone number for Peace Corps/Mexico is: +052(442)238-6900
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
The Peace Corps office has two computers available for trainees and Volunteers and wireless internet in the back courtyard. There are many Internet cafes in the downtown area that offer reasonable rates. We recommend that you use these if you find that you do not have sufficient access during working hours at the training center and Peace Corps.
Infinitium, managed by Telmex, is the largest Internet service provider. Packages must be purchased along with phone service; internet can not be purchased as a standalone service. You can choose varying bandwidths and monthly costs range from $32 to $82.
Internet can also be purchased through cable packages in the more urban sites. USB modems are also offered by Telcel, Movistar, and IUSACELL, but only offer slower connection speeds generally not fast enough to use Skype.
Housing and Site Location
Volunteer sites range from medium to large-sized cities to small rural communities, primarily in the central region of Mexico. During training all trainees live with host families within a 40 minute walking distance of the training center in Queretaro. After swearing-in and moving to their sites, all Volunteers are also required to live with a family for an additional month before moving into their own residence.
This allows new Volunteers to adapt to their sites, practice their language skills and adjust to life outside of training before renting their own place. After this period has passed, Volunteers are permitted to obtain their own housing within the budget established by Peace Corps and the host country agency to which they are assigned. Most Volunteers decide to live in apartments or small houses, but some continue to live with families. The Peace Corps has established site selection criteria to ensure Volunteer safety so Peace Corps/Mexico will assist Volunteers in selecting approved housing. Upon swearing-in, the Peace Corps provides a settling-in allowance to buy basic furniture, pans, dishes, lamps, etc., and, if necessary, a small refrigerator and stove.
Living Allowance and Money Management
The Peace Corps provides each Volunteer with a living allowance that varies depending on the cost of living at site (higher in cities than in rural communities). In addition, the Peace Corps conducts a cost-of-living survey each May to determine what adjustments need to be made to Volunteer living allowances during the next fiscal year (beginning in October). All Volunteers open a bank account at Banamex where their living allowance is deposited monthly. Volunteers can use debit cards to access their money at ATM machines and use e-banking to pay bills.
Food and Diet
The food you find in Mexico bears only a superficial resemblance to the “Mexican food” you find at your local Taco Bell in the U.S. While the Mexican diet centers around meat, beans, chiles, corn (in tortillas, tamales, or tostadas), dairy products and fruit, it is much more diverse depending on the time of year, region of the country, and the family budget. A wide diversity of climates, soils, traditional crops, indigenous peoples, and consumer tastes has resulted in Mexican farmers producing just about anything you can think of; and what isn’t grown is usually imported. With increasing urbanization and exposure to other cultures, the Mexican diet is gradually changing. In just about any urban center you can now find a wide range of prepared foods, including sushi, pizza, seafood, Chinese, Italian, Arabic, Brazilian, Argentine and, of course, regional Mexican dishes. In every Mexican neighborhood, ubiquitous taco stands provide a wide range of fast food that is hard to pass up and act as a magnet for people of all ages. Unfortunately, today’s Mexican diet is not necessarily a healthy one and modern diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are becoming epidemic.
Most Volunteers use public transportation to commute to work and for weekend excursions. Volunteers living in downtown areas tend to prefer walking and indeed it is often quicker to walk than drive. In some cases, host country agencies provide shuttle bus transportation to and from work for their employees. In other cases, Volunteers obtain rides with colleagues or friends. Several Volunteers have bicycles, but these are used mainly for recreation and running errands and not commuting to work. Peace Corps/Mexico does not issue bicycles. If you operate a bicycle, you must wear a bicycle helmet (not provided by the Peace Corps). Cheap taxis are common in all urban areas. Mexico has an excellent system of buses in the larger cities as well as inter-city buses. Airline travel, although somewhat expensive, also is an option for long-distance travel.
Volunteers are not permitted to own or lease vehicles (cars or motorcycles) for long-term use in their country of assignment.
Accordingly, Peace Corps Volunteers shall not operate vehicles except when they are outside of their site on approved leave. Rental vehicles for vacation travel are permitted, but are not allowed for travel to and from work sites.
Geography and Climate
Mexico is a large country, roughly about one-third the size of the U.S. It shares borders with the U.S. to the north and Belize and Guatemala to the south. Mexico has several thousand miles of shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean. Mexico has every conceivable land form and geographic feature, including the deserts of the north, the volcanic ridge traversing central Mexico, the Sierra Madre ranges running along both sides of the country, the fertile plains and alluvial valleys of the coasts, and the tropical forest areas in Chiapas and Yucatan peninsulas. In the northern and central parts of the country, the climate is temperate becoming increasingly tropical in the southern parts of the country and Yucatan. Most of Mexico has two distinct seasons, a dry season from November through May and a rainy season from June through October. In the northern and central parts of the country where Volunteers are assigned, the winters are cold and dry, while the summers are hot and relatively humid. Remember that most buildings in Mexico lack heating and air conditioning, so often there is not that much difference between the temperatures inside and outside.
In the large and culturally diverse cities to which Volunteers are assigned there is no shortage of social activities to participate in. For most Mexicans their social lives revolve around their families and, to a lesser extent, friends, and life events such as birthdays (especially a child’s 15th birthday, called quinceñera), weddings and graduations. In the cities there are restaurants, movies, plazas, theaters, concerts, fairs, open-air markets, religious celebrations, classes, organized trips to other locations, and sports. While there is no shortage of activities, Volunteers sometimes struggle to make acquaintances with similar interests. Most Volunteers tend make friends through work or recreational activities (such as yoga, soccer, cycling, racket sports, dancing) and interact with them as time permits.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
In the central part of the country, Mexicans dress somewhat conservatively by U.S. standards. Also, as in the United States, through dress people reveal their social status and send signals regarding their values and lifestyle, so much attention is placed on dress. For the most part, in Mexico you would dress as you would in the United States. At work men wear, casual smart clothing most days, but there are those special days when a tie, or even suit and tie are called for. Women are typically expected to be a bit more stylish and wear some kind of a dress suit most of the time.
Since most buildings in Mexico do not have central heating or cooling, the temperature indoors tends imitate that outdoors, hot summers and cool winters. Be sure to bring clothing that protects you from the summer sun and for those chilly winter days. The only times that one wears shorts and sneakers without feeling out of place is on the weekends and during sporting activities. If you are into hiking or sports, be sure to bring the appropriate attire and footwear, since “specialty gear” tends to be expensive in Mexico. Sandals are not commonly worn by city folk but are becoming more common.
Generally, all kinds of clothing are readily available but the brands that you would typically buy in the U.S. are more expensive in Mexico.
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 (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 Peace Corps Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious 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 Mexico. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
By definition, Peace Corps service in any country is both rewarding and frustrating; the Mexico program is no exception. A corollary to this is that Volunteers normally get out of their service what they put into it. The Mexico program is not for everyone thus both the selection process and pre-service training are rigorous and demanding. Ultimately the rewards include learning another language and new skills; making new and lasting friendships; becoming acquainted with another country, its people, and its culture; and making a contribution to Mexico’s economic development. Potential frustrations are likely to be similar to those faced by anyone moving to a new location in a foreign country to take a new job. In most cases, Volunteers who are adaptable and flexible and who persevere are most likely to have the fewest frustrations and reap the greatest rewards from their Peace Corps service.
PEACE CORPS TRAINING
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Since you have been recruited for very specific assignments and have considerable qualifications for these assignments, pre-service training emphasizes acquiring language and cross-cultural skills rather than technical skills. It is assumed that you are technically well-qualified for the assignments for which you were recruited.
Our expectations are that by the end of the 11-week training you will: 1) have the ability to speak basic Spanish; 2) have the essential intercultural and social skills to interact in a constructive way with your colleagues and with Mexicans at large; 3) share and be committed to the values of Peace Corps; and 4) possess the basic technical and work- related skills that will help you to make a positive contribution in your workplace and in the communities where you live. The training program is designed to get you off to an excellent start as a Volunteer. Once a Volunteer, you will be expected to continue to take further control of your learning and continue to develop the appropriate skills.
The training staff will challenge and support you as much as possible along the way. You will be required to actively participate in your own assessment. This will ensure that you are skilled in self-study and self-analysis so you can make the best of what will often be a very challenging and rewarding cross-cultural living and working environment. Please keep in mind that you belong to one of Peace Corps/Mexico’s initial training groups so the pre-service training program is still being refined.
Pre-service training is broken down into language, cross-culture, health, safety and security, technical, and general components. These components are utilized by Peace Corps posts worldwide and provide the training framework. Within each of these components, Peace Corps and training center staff have identified Mexico-specific topics that have been incorporated into the pre-service training design. Within the overall training design and plan, trainees, in general, receive approximately 250 hours of language training, 60–80 hours of cross-cultural training, 16–20 hours of safety and security training, approximately 40 hours of technical raining, and about 20 hours of general orientation.
Peace Corps recognizes that trainees bring with them rich and diverse backgrounds. Therefore, throughout the training cycle, you are encouraged to contribute in constructive ways to training and to identify and develop strategies to utilize other resources, both during and after training.
Technical training will prepare you to work in Mexico by building on the skills you already have and helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff, Mexico experts, and current Volunteers conduct the training program. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you have to the center in which you will serve as a Volunteer.
Technical training will include sessions on the general economic and political environment in Mexico and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Mexican agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them. You will be supported and evaluated throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you need to undertake your project activities and be a productive member of your community.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills are the key to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. These skills are critical to your job performance, they help you integrate into your community, and they can ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings. Therefore, language training is the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer. Spanish language instructors typically teach formal language classes five days a week in small groups of four to five people.
Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family. The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills further once you are at your site. Prior to being sworn in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your service.
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a Mexican host family. This experience is designed to ease your transition to life at your site. Families go through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of pre-service training and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Mexico. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.
Cross-cultural and community development training will help you improve your communication skills and understand your role as a facilitator of development. You will be exposed to topics such as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, nonformal and adult education strategies, and political structures.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You will be expected to practice preventive health care and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. Trainees are required to attend all medical sessions. The topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that you might encounter while in Mexico. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe residence, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs) are also covered.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces your risks at home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides Volunteers with continual opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills. During service, there are usually three training events. The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:
- In-service training: Provides an opportunity for Volunteers to upgrade their technical, language, and project development skills while sharing their experiences and reaffirming their commitment after having served for three to six months.
- Midterm conference (done in conjunction with technical sector in-service): Assists Volunteers in reviewing their first year, reassessing their personal and project objectives, and planning for their second year of service.
- Close of service conference: Prepares Volunteers for the future after Peace Corps service and reviews their respective projects and personal experiences.
The number, length, and design of these trainings are adapted to country-specific needs and conditions. The key to the training system is that training events are integrated and interrelated, from the pre-departure orientation through the end of your service, and are planned, implemented, and evaluated cooperatively by the training staff, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN MEXICO
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. Peace Corps/Mexico maintains a clinic with a full-time medical officer who takes care of Volunteers’ primary health-care needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Mexico at local hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to an American-standard medical facility in Mexico City or to the United States.
Health Issues in Mexico
Most illnesses in Mexico are related to the consumption of contaminated or inappropriately prepared food and beverages, which may result in gastrointestinal ailments, dysentery, parasites, trichinosis, hepatitis, or typhoid fever. Prevention by careful preparation of food and water, and careful personal hygiene, is the best way to safeguard your health. Brucellosis is mainly transmitted by drinking un-pasteurized milk or eating dairy products or fresh cheese that has not been properly pasteurized. Since there is not a vaccine against this condition, it is very important to drink pasteurized milk and dairy products.
Sexually transmitted illnesses, including HIV/AIDS, are also an important concern and proper precautions should always be taken. In the coastal areas of the country, malaria is also prevalent in some locations so prophylaxis may need to be taken when traveling.
Diabetes and asthma are growing health problems, particularly in larger urban areas. Poor air quality also may result in respiratory ailments, allergies, and breathing problems. Obesity and heart disease are also increasing in Mexico as people become more sedentary and fast-food diets become more commonplace.
In addition to infectious diseases, automobile accidents, either while being a passenger in a motor vehicle or as a pedestrian, are also a major concern.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in Mexico, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of pre-service training, you will receive a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this chapter.
During pre-service training, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the medical officer. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as the Peace Corps will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available here and it may take several months for shipments to arrive.
You will have physicals at mid-service and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Mexico will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Mexico, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept considerable responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The adage “An ounce of prevention …” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Mexico is to take the following preventive measures:
Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These illnesses include food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, tapeworms, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in Mexico during pre-service training.
Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STIs. You will receive more information from the medical officer about this important issue.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, and that you let the medical officer know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention but also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that Peace Corps medical and programmatic standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met.
If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps medical officer in Mexico will provide them. If you require a specific product, please bring a six-month supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer will provide you with a kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
Acetaminophen tablets 325 mg, 50s
Bismuth Subsalicylate tablets, 48s
Bacitracin-Polymixin B ointment, 15 gm tube
Cetylpyridium throat lozenges, 9s
Chlorhexidine detergent, 120 ml
Clotrimazole cream 1%, 15 gm tube
Dextromethorphan throat lozenges, 18s
Antacid tablets (e.g., Tums, Mylanta, Di-Gel), 30s
Diphenhydramine capsules 25 mg, 30s
Hydrocortisone cream 1%, 30 gm tube
Ibuprofen 400 mg, 40s
Iodine water purification tablets, 50s
Oral rehydration salts, 10 packets
Pseudoephedrine tablets, 60 mg, 24s
Normal Saline Eye Drops (5, 10 or 20 cc bottle)
Adhesive tape (1” X 10 yards)
Band-Aids (assorted sizes)
Butterfly skin closures, 20s
Condoms, lubricated, without Nonoxynol-9, 10s
Dental floss, unwaxed (100 yards)
Elastic bandage (3” X 5 yards)
Gauze pads, sterile, (3” X 3”), 10s
Gloves, non-sterile, latex
Insect repellent, 30-35% DEET, item not considered a HAZMAT by international shipping standards (e.g., Ultrathon)
Lib balm with sunscreen, SPF 15
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Safety Whistle, < 120 decibels
Scissors, surgical, straight, double-blunt, 5.5”
Sunscreen cream, SPF 30, 105 ml
Tweezers, splinter, 3.5”
Thermometer, oral disposable, 10s
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, contact your physician’s office to obtain a copy of your immunization record and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your pre-departure orientation or shortly after you arrive in Mexico. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth
control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, we will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take two to three months—you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements.
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying a three-month supply of prescription drugs.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. The Peace Corps discourages you from using contact lenses during your service to reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in health-care plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary health care from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service health-care benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 83 percent of Volunteers surveyed say they would join the Peace Corps again.
The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety information.
The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are in the Volunteer’s control. Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2003, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).
- Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 47 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the late evening between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.— most often occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: More than 75 percent of crime incidents occurred when a Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Almost a third of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:
- Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel
- Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
- Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
- Carry valuables in different pockets/places
- Carry a “dummy” wallet as a decoy Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:
- Live with a local family or on a family compound
- Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk
- Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.
- Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
- Make local friends
- Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing
- Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
- Travel with someone whenever possible
- Avoid known high crime areas
- Limit alcohol consumption
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security;
Information and Personnel Security; and Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise. The safety and security team also tracks crime statistics, identifies trends in criminal activity, and highlights potential safety risks to Volunteers.
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed.
After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provides support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
Security Issues in Mexico
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target for crime. As with any country in the world, crime does exist in Mexico. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Tourist attractions and sporting events in cities, for instance, are favorite work sites for pickpockets.
The potential security risks in the areas where Peace
Corps/Mexico Volunteers live and work include:
- Pick pocketing of valuables in public places
- Burglary of residences while a Volunteer is at work or traveling
- Physical or sexual assault
- Kidnapping (“express” kidnappings to get victim to empty his/her bank account at ATM machines are becoming more commonplace)
- Credit card fraud (usually at businesses where purchases are made with cards)
In addition to crime other security risks include crossing busy public roads and traveling by car and bus. Particular caution should be used when boarding public buses and taxis to ensure that they are in reasonably good working order and that the driver is not intoxicated.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your home is secure, and develop relationships in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Mexico, do what you would do if you moved to a new city in the United States: Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Mexico may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention both in large cities and at their sites, but they are likely to receive more negative attention in highly populated centers than at their sites, where “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them.
While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to unwanted attention. In addition, keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch, the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. And always walk with a companion at night and in parts of town you are not familiar with.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Mexico
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes the following: information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for addressing safety and security incidents. Peace Corps/Mexico’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
Information sharing—The Peace Corps/Mexico office will keep you informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety. Regular updates will be provided in Volunteer newsletters and in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, you will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Volunteer training will include sessions on specific safety and security issues in Mexico. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to guide staff and in selecting safe work sites and housing. The Peace Corps staff works closely with counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe work sites, and access to safe and secure housing. Site selection is based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; different housing options and living arrangements; and other Volunteer support needs. Volunteers are responsible for finding safe housing, using Peace Corps/Mexico’s safety and security housing checklist, which is then approved by Peace Corps staff.
You will also learn about Peace Corps/Mexico’s detailed emergency action plan, which is implemented in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, you will gather with other Volunteers in Mexico at predetermined locations until the situation is resolved or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
Finally, in order for the Peace Corps to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the appropriate Peace Corps staff person. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
DIVERSITY AND CROSSCULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ 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 Mexico, 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 Mexico.
Outside of Mexico’s larger cities, 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 people of Mexico are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, the Mexicans you meet and interact with will display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present and the country you represent. Remember that millions of Mexicans work in the U.S. and most of these people keep in contact with their families in Mexico, so most Mexicans have an insight into Americans, their way of life and their values. Some of these individuals and their families may have had unpleasant experiences while living in the U.S. and may be somewhat resentful that it is becoming more difficult for the average Mexican to travel to and work in the United States.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Mexico, 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 Mexico
The Peace Corps staff in Mexico 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?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
While female Volunteers are likely to face some issues not faced by their male peers, these issues are unlikely to dramatically affect their service. Obviously, women working in large cities have special safety and security concerns having to do with their social lives and activities outside of the workplace. Therefore, female Volunteers, in particular, need to practice some basic risk-avoidance strategies and use common sense to ensure that their habits do not make them easy targets. Women in Mexico do not enjoy as much freedom and independence as their counterparts in the U.S., but this is changing rapidly. In the workplace, Volunteers generally have to earn the respect and support of co-workers; however, it may take more effort from female Volunteers to achieve the same results. Women in the Mexican workplace are expected to dress somewhat conservatively and be good listeners, so come prepared for this.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Mexicans, of course, have seen people of all colors on TV and in the movies, but most of them have not had the opportunity to befriend people of other ethnic groups. Also, the Mexicans are accustomed to people, usually tourists, of all “colors” visiting certain parts of the country such as Mexico City, Guadalajara, Acapulco, and Cancun. In larger urban areas and tourist destinations, Mexican usually don’t take much notice of strangers; in less visited areas, they will certainly look but normally not stare. Most of rural Mexico is quite homogeneous with people of African and Asian extraction absent. Consequently, it is in these areas that people are most likely to notice and be overly curious. The staff at the centers to which you will be assigned have frequently studied or traveled overseas or have interacted with visitors from other countries, and most will react very favorably to your presence.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Though issues encountered by Volunteers vary from individual to individual, older Volunteers may have greater difficulties learning another language and adapting to a different culture. Senior Volunteers will find that older people are treated with respect and are expected to be endless sources of knowledge. Mexicans typically expect seniors to be relatively sedentary, so if you’re someone with lots of energy you may find that you surprise a lot of people. Moreover, there are relatively few activities organized specifically for seniors, which means you will have to have to develop your own networks and pastimes.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
As in the U.S., Mexicans have mixed views about homosexuality. Very few people are openly homosexual in Mexico, so the whole issue is not something that is addressed directly by society. For the most part, homosexuals tend to migrate towards larger cities, particularly Mexico City, where they form a sub-culture immersed within the social fabric of these cities, and where they run less risk of being chastised. While male homosexuality is acknowledged to exist and is generally tolerated, the notion of female homosexuality is generally ignored and perceived to be something of a foreign invention and not prevalent in Mexico. Gay Volunteers will need to be extremely discrete and know their peers well before disclosing their sexual orientation.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
In Mexico, it is pretty much assumed that everyone is Catholic and that you go to the local church on Sundays. In reality, there are a fairly large number of religious denominations and a great deal of people don’t go to church on Sundays. While people of other faiths and denominations may be present in some of the larger cities to which Volunteers are assigned, it may be difficult to locate and worship with them. People will occasionally ask what religion you belong to and whether you go to church. Once you master Spanish, you will be in a better position to explain your particular religion or point of view. Initially, most trainees are invited to go to Catholic church by their host families, and after a few services they are given the option of continuing or not. If you discover that the church of your choice is available, then your host family will most likely be happy to accommodate your choice.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
In recent years, Mexico has made significant strides in making its public areas more accessible to people with disabilities. For example, in the downtown areas most sidewalks are paved and have ramps onto the streets. Most government buildings and shopping centers have handicapped parking and access ramps. However, Mexico is a very difficult place for the visually impaired to function normally. Unfortunately, despite recent progress, the attitude that handicapped people are second-class citizens still pervades throughout most of Mexico and little public funds are made available to improve their quality of life.
Nevertheless, 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 Mexico without unreasonable risk to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Mexico 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.
Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
Issues for married Volunteers depend on the type of relationship the couple shares. Married couples usually speak more English and less Spanish and may be less likely to learn Spanish at the same rate as single trainees. In addition, couples tend to socialize less and may not make as many friends as single Volunteers do. At the workplace, men are typically given more status than women, but this cultural norm is gradually changing. In some cases, people may assume that the husband is the one with the advanced degree and the wife with the lower one.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Mexico?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds those limits. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The Peace Corps allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight of 50 pounds for any one bag.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution.
What is the electric current in Mexico?
The electric current is 110/120 volts. All electric appliances used in the United States will function well in Mexico. However, during the summer months, electrical storms can cause strong electrical surges that can damage sensitive equipment. Voltage regulators and surge protectors are widely available locally.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people
in their community. You will be given a settling-in allowance
and a monthly living allowance, which should cover your
expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for
vacation travel to other countries. Credit and debit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. ATM machines are conveniently located throughout the cities you will be assigned to. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and will require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps cannot provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects. Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase personal property insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company. Additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items to Mexico. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in Mexico do not need an international driver’s license because U.S. driver’s licenses are accepted. However, Volunteers are not allowed to own cars and are prohibited from operating privately owned motorized vehicles unless authorized to do so by the country director. Most Volunteers travel in urban areas by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to trucks, bicycles, and lots of walking. On occasion, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a host country agency vehicle, but this can occur only with prior written permission of the country director. Should this be necessary, the Volunteer may obtain a local driver’s license, and a U.S. driver’s license will facilitate the process.
What should I bring as gifts for Mexico friends and my host family?
This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; baseball caps, pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to specific sites until they have successfully completed pre-service training. This gives Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical, language, and interpersonal skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with ministry counterparts. Many factors influence the site selection process and the Peace Corps may not be able to place Volunteers where they would ideally like to be. Most Volunteers live in large cities and usually within one-hour travel time from another Volunteer. Some sites are an 8- to 10-hour drive from Queretaro, where the Peace Corps/Mexico office is located, but none of the sites are isolated.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580; select option 2, then extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For nonemergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580.
Can I call home from Mexico?
Yes, you can easily call home through the national telephone company, TELMEX, or any of the cellphone operators. Many Internet cafes offer Web phone service as well.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
It isn’t necessary but you may. Verizon and Nextel phones may be used in Mexico; check with your service provider in the U.S. In Mexico, you may also buy cellphones at reasonable prices with a plan or for use with a calling card. Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
The training center has one computer that is available for trainee use. The Peace Corps office also has two computers available for trainees and Volunteers. You must have permission of either the Peace Corps or the training center to use their audio-visual equipment. There are several Internet cafes in the downtown area near the training center that offer reasonable rates. We recommend that you use these if you find that you do not have sufficient access during working hours at the training center and Peace Corps office.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Mexico and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything on the list, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, remember you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Mexico.
Neat, professional, and conservative should be your guidelines when selecting appropriate clothing. The centers to which you will be assigned are professional environments. Men typically wear dress shirts (ocassionally with ties) and women wear skirts or suits. When visiting government representatives and corporate executives, suits and business attire are appropriate and expected. Some of the CONACYT centers provide empolyees with uniforms, in which case you will be expected to wear one of these just like other employees.
- One suit, dress shirt and tie
- Business casual clothing for workplace
- Jeans, which can be expensive and hard to find, are business casual for many CONANP offices
- Casual light clothes and some sweaters
- Pants that have the zipper and can be converted into shorts
- Good-quality athletic and hiking socks
- Warm clothes (i.e., heavy coats, gloves, and hats—it does freeze in parts of Mexico!) 83
- Rain gear (when it does rain, it can be a real downpour)
- Windbreaker—good on cool nights
- Sun protection—the sun is strong at midday
- White T-shirts (the quality of white T-shirts in Mexico is poor and they fall apart quickly)
- Two pairs of good walking shoes—you’ll be doing a lot of walking
- Two pairs of sneakers or running shoes (they are expensive here)
- Hiking boots—there is no shortage of hiking opportunities here
- Dress or casual shoes (they are everywhere and reasonably priced in Mexico, but may not be as comfortable you’d like)
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
Note that toothpaste and whiteners (other than Crest and Colgate) are hard to find or very expensive in Mexico. The quality of dermatologist-recommended soaps like Aveeno is also poor.
Note that most everything is available in Mexico. However, you may want to bring hard-to-find spices, kitchen utensils, and your preferred coffeemaker.
- CDMA Cell phone, if intending on using IUSACELL
- GSM Cell phone (one with a SIM card), if intending on using Telcel or Movistar
- Clock radio
- Digital Camera
- Electronic Spanish translator (if you are beginning Spanish)
- Screwdrivers and pliers (these can be helpful when you can’t find a hardware store fast enough)
- Hiking gear
- Field guides for birds and other natural history themes
Note that electronics are generally much more expensive in Mexico.
The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to live outside the United States for two years. Not all items will be relevant to everyone, and the list does not include everything you should make arrangements for.
- Notify family that they can call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; after-hours duty officer: 202.638.2574).
- Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front handbook to family and friends.
- Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for the Peace Corps passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain a personal passport if you plan to travel after your service ends. (Your Peace Corps passport will expire three months after you finish your service, so if you plan to travel longer, you will need a regular passport.)
- Complete any needed dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pairs.
- Arrange to bring a six-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while you are away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your health care during Peace Corps service overseas, it is advisable for people who have preexisting conditions to arrange for the continuation of their supplemental health coverage. If there is a lapse in coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated.)
- Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas.
- Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas.
- Purchase personal property insurance to extend from the time you leave your home for service overseas until the time you complete your service and return to the United States.
- Obtain student loan deferment forms from the lender or loan service.
- Execute a power of attorney for the management of your property and business.
- Arrange for deductions from your readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other debts through the Office of Volunteer Financial Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770.
- Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.
Peace Corps News
The following is automatic RSS feed of Peace Corps news for this country.
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PEACE CORPS JOURNALS
( As of Saturday January 31, 2015 )<rss title=off desc=off>http://peacecorpsjournals.com/rss/mx/blog/50.xml%7Ccharset=UTF-8%7Cshort%7Cmax=10</rss>
Contributions to the Mexico Country Fund will support Volunteer and community projects that will take place in Mexico. These projects include water and sanitation, agricultural development, and youth programs.