From Peace Corps Wiki
For the official Welcome Book for Micronesia see here
PEACE CORPS / MICRONESIA
HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Micronesia
The Peace Corps program in Micronesia began in 1966. At the program’s peak size in 1968, 700 Volunteers were assigned to Micronesia, which included the Republic of Palau, FSM, Northern Mariana Islands, and the Marshall Islands. The first group of Volunteers taught English at all educational levels, and a cadre of Volunteer legal advisors soon followed. The Volunteer legal advisors assisted the then U.S. trust territory in its quest for independence. In the 1970s, the Peace Corps moved into agriculture, health, community development, and cooperative management projects. The early 1980s saw Volunteers working in water and sanitation, forestry, and fisheries.
The formation of FSM in 1986 resulted in a reassessment of Peace Corps programming, and Volunteer activities were consolidated. Dual assignments were developed, and all Volunteers taught English in primary schools and also worked in other activities specified by their sponsoring state government agency. In the 1990s, the programming strategy moved from state-specific to national projects. Concurrently, programming shifted from being focused on English as a second language to projects in a wide range of technical areas, such as library development, health education, sports development, youth group development, marine resource management, environmental education, watershed management, and small business development.
From 2000–06, Volunteers worked in two main project areas: natural resources conservation and development and youth and community development. Volunteers continued to work in the areas of youth, health, library/reading and technology, marine resources conservation and terrestrial resources conservation. There was also an increased emphasis on cross-sector collaboration between different agencies to respond to social and environmental issues.
Recently, Peace Corps met with more than 80 representatives from the education, environment and health sectors to determine how and where Volunteers could best serve FSM and Palau. As a result, in 2006, Volunteers returned to the classroom to teach English as a second language (TESL) and to work with communities to facilitate environmental education, health education, and community development programs. This project addresses needs in all four FSM states (Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Yap State) and the Republic of Palau.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Micronesia
Today, Peace Corps Volunteers work in either the TESL or education for community development projects. While there are 18 local languages spoken across FSM and Palau, English is the language of government, education, and many professional settings. Lack of English ability is seen as a key factor in a 66 percent drop in enrollment between elementary school and high school and in very low entrance exam scores at the College of Micronesia. In a broader sense, stakeholders note systemic educational challenges with instructional planning, teaching skills, assessment practices, and school-parent communication—areas in which Volunteers also contribute.
To support English instruction and address systemic education issues in a sustainable manner, Volunteers work very closely with the local school staff and leadership as peer observers, demonstration teachers, co-planners, team teachers, and facilitators of informal exchanges.
In addition to Volunteer work at the school, Volunteers are capable and well positioned to support community development and service learning projects, especially as they relate to priorities in health education, environmental education, and youth development. Therefore, the design of the project plan addresses an urgent need for English, while also encouraging Volunteers to work with local community groups and agencies on other community issues.
Micronesia is at a dynamic point in its development history, and Peace Corps/Micronesia is working closely with FSM/Palau leadership to ensure that the Peace Corps program best assists Micronesians in their efforts to become independent and self-reliant.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: MICRONESIA AT A GLANCE
The name Micronesia derives from the Greek words mikros, “small,” and neso, “island.” Until recently, the many distinct languages of the Micronesian islands existed only in oral form. History and legends were not documented, and thus much of the early history of these islands had to be derived from archaeological artifacts. It is thought that more than 3,000 years ago, Austronesian-speaking Micronesian people entered the Pacific from Southeast Asia. These seafaring people probably first settled in the Marianas (Guam and Saipan), and then the Western Carolines, including Palau and Yap. Later, migrations from the southern Melanesian islands brought settlers to Kosrae, Chuuk, and Pohnpei. The “outer islands” of Micronesia were likely settled later, as their languages are dissimilar to those of the main islands.
Micronesians are known as great sea voyagers and sailed huge outrigger canoes over distances of thousands of miles, using traditional navigation techniques, dependent on knowledge of the movements of currents, swells, winds, and birds. Early Micronesians lived a subsistence lifestyle based on fishing, gathering, and agriculture.
Legends of ancient civilization in the Caroline Islands tell of an ancient empire, about which little is known. The remnants of magnificent stone fortresses constructed from basalt pillars in Pohnpei (Nan Madol) and in Kosrae (Lela Ruins) are thought to date back to 400 A.D.
Yapese stone money (stone discs as large as 12 feet in diameter that can weight up to 12 tons) was mined as far away as Palau and transported by canoe to Yap.
Islands in the archipelagoes known as Micronesia were among the first in the Pacific to be “discovered” by European explorers of the 16th century. The islands were grouped into three categories: the Marshall Islands, the Eastern Caroline Islands (Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Chuuk) and the Western Caroline Islands (Yap and Palau).
The first known European contact dates back to 1521, during Ferdinand Magellan’s quest to find a trade route to the Spice Islands of the east traveling west from Spain. The Spaniards developed an indirect trade route to Asia: across the Atlantic to South America, across South America via land, and onward into the Pacific. In the 18th and 19th centuries, whalers, traders, and missionaries found their way to the islands. The missionaries succeeded in creating what are today entirely Christian societies on all the major islands and some outer islands. Micronesians retain little memory of earlier belief systems.
The islands of the FSM and the Republic of Palau share similar colonial histories under Spain, Germany, Japan, and the United States. Spanish influence in Micronesia expanded in the 19th century, but following its defeat in the Spanish-American War, Spain sold Palau and most of the Caroline Islands (which later became the Federated States of Micronesia) to Germany in 1899.
The Germans were interested in the islands to support trade in coconut products. Their use of forced labor on the island of Pohnpei culminated in the assassination of the German governor by a young Micronesian. Many Pohnpeian men were then exiled to Palau; other Micronesian men were transported from the outer islands of Pohnpei and Chuuk. The Germans deserted Micronesia in World War I, which allowed an easy takeover by the Japanese. Japan built large military bases on some of the islands and developed sugar mills in the Marianas, bauxite and phosphate mines in Palau, and fishing and shell production throughout the region. The Japanese encouraged emigration to Micronesia, and Micronesians were used as low-level manual laborers.
Japan had aspirations of being the dominant power in Asia and in the Pacific. Thus, the Pacific saw significant military activity during World War II. Chuuk Lagoon became the Japanese imperial fleet’s most important central Pacific base. In February 1944, U.S. forces attacked Chuuk Lagoon. Over two days, more than 200,000 tons of equipment were sunk in the lagoon. Heavy fighting continued in Micronesia and surrounding islands over the ensuing months, with particularly long and brutal battles occurring in the Marianas and Palau. Japan held the islands until their surrender after World War II. When the war ended, Micronesia remained under U.S. military control.
In 1947, the islands of Micronesia were formed into the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands by the United Nations. The U.S. was given temporary administrative rights over the islands to ready them for eventual independence. While the intention had been to prepare the islands for self-government, their economies relied almost entirely on government services and resources from the States.
In 1965, the U.S. agreed to form a congress to determine the islands’ future. In 1979, Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap chose independence as freely associated states and became “The Federated States of Micronesia” on November 3, 1986. The Republic of Palau took much longer to reach that status because it opposed U.S. demands for control of the waters around the islands. It chose independence in 1981 and became the independent Republic of Palau on October 1, 1994.
Today, both FSM and Palau have compact agreements with the United States. The agreements spell out the funds the U.S. will provide each country over time and the strategic and defense advantages the U.S. will have in return. Many U.S. government social services (e.g., Head Start, legal services, and special education services) are available to the citizens of both countries. FSM entered its first compact agreement with the U.S. in 1986 and a new compact agreement was signed in December 2003 that will provide U.S. financial support for the next 20 years. This new compact is focused on creating self-reliance, gradually phasing out some U.S. social service programs and establishing a trust fund to help provide FSM with ongoing financial resources.
Both the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau are democratic republics closely modeled on the federal system of the United States. They are divided into states, each with a state government. In FSM, the states are further divided into municipalities, each with a governing entity. Unlike the U.S., the states of Micronesia are highly autonomous, exercising much greater independence from the federal government. There is a unicameral legislature with proportional and at-large representation from the four states. The president is elected by the members of the legislature from among the at-large delegates. The Republic of Palau has a bicameral form of government that is also based on the U.S. model.
The court systems of both countries are similar to the U.S. system and often rely on U.S. precedents in their rulings.
The Constitution of Micronesia is closely modeled on the
U.S. Constitution and includes a section similar to the Bill of Rights. The Micronesian Constitution allows for great deference to the traditional government hierarchy, exempting it from some of the mandates of the document.
Palau and the islands of Pohnpei and Yap have traditional governing entities that include paramount chiefs. This traditional leadership structure remains strong, functioning alongside the official governing entities. These two seemingly diametrically opposed systems attempt to accommodate each other. Some local issues are considered more the domain of the traditional system while others (particularly international issues) are left to the official government and legal system.
The Federated States of Micronesia suffers from a large government bureaucracy, which is largely supported by U.S. compact funds and accounts for about 90 percent of FSM’s cash economy. Despite intentions in the first compact agreement, Micronesia has yet to develop a viable private sector, and 90 percent of Micronesians live subsistence lifestyles. Systems have been established for greater accountability and oversight of the amended compact funds. In 2003, FSM held an economic summit and reaffirmed its commitment to three industries in which to support economic development: tourism, fishing, and agroforestry. Of all the Micronesian states, Chuuk—well-known for its treasures of Japanese ships sunk during World War II—probably has the best developed SCUBA-diving industry. Nonetheless, it is the poorest of the states, partly due to its relatively large population (approximately 60,000) and partly due to mismanaged funds. Other issues that impede the economic development of FSM include complicated rules of landownership and the fact that foreign investors cannot own land.
Palau has seen much greater development of its economy. Its tourism industry is thriving, and there are many new restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions. International travel to Palau is more frequent, with flights arriving regularly from Guam and the Philippines. Palau is now known as a world-class diving destination. This economic development, particularly in the tourist trade, is placing a significant strain on the environment. The increase in tourists and divers is threatening fragile coral reef systems, and the construction and near-completion of a paved road that will connect rural Palauan communities to the capital is disturbing fragile ecosystems.
People and Culture
Approximately 60 of FSM’s islands are inhabited, but most of the country’s 123,800 citizens reside primarily in the four major states: Yap (11,900), Chuuk (67,300), Pohnpei (about 36,900), and Kosrae (about 7,700). Palau’s population of approximately 19,000 is spread out among eight permanently inhabited islands; most live in Koror, the capital of Palau. The majority of the population of these two countries is young; approximately 64 percent are under the age of 24.
The people of the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau have maintained much of their indigenous cultures despite their contacts with Spaniards, Germans, Japanese, and Americans. The languages spoken on the five main islands are distinct, and many more distinct languages exist in the outer islands. English is thus the common language among many Micronesians.
Both countries are predominantly Christian. About half the population is Roman Catholic, and the other half belongs to various Protestant denominations. A small proportion of Palauans still practice an indigenous religion. Despite the Westernization of their religion, most people on the outer islands and rural areas maintain a traditional lifestyle. While Micronesians on most main islands dress very conservatively, on many of the outer islands and in Yap, it is common for outer islanders to wear only lavalavas (sarongs made from woven cloth) and loincloths.
On Yap, a very strict caste system exists, and entry into a village requires permission from the powerful village chief. On Pohnpei, the chiefs exert a great deal of influence and are treated like royalty.
In Pohnpei, the making of the intoxicating drink sakau (kava) is part of both everyday socializing and of any important celebration. Betel nut (a palm nut) chewing is common throughout the islands, especially in Yap and Palau.
Funerals, which sometimes last for days, are probably the most important social event on the islands.
Together, the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia are called the Caroline Islands. They comprise 957 islands, islets, and reefs with a total land area of more than 460 square miles—spread over more than a million square miles in the Pacific Ocean. They are located about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to Indonesia.
The five major islands of FSM and Palau are high, lush, volcanic islands, and the surrounding islands are mostly sandy low-lying coral atolls. Because all the islands are near the equator (between five and 10 degrees north, except for Kapingamarangi atoll, which is right on the equator), water and air temperatures do not change much and maintain an average between 80 degrees and 85 degrees (Fahrenheit) year round.
The main islands of both Palau and FSM are surrounded by barrier reefs. Kosrae, a smaller island, is surrounded by a fringe reef. Tuna is plentiful outside the lagoons, while varieties of reef fish, sea cucumber, mangrove crab, and other local delicacies abound within them. Pohnpei is surrounded by an extensive mangrove system and does not have beaches. The other islands are a combination of mangrove and beach coastline.
Pohnpei has the most extensive rain forests of all the islands. It also has the highest mountain (2,500 feet), Nanalaud, in the area. Kosrae’s lush, moist terrain is very similar to that of Pohnpei. Yap and Palau also have grasslands and forests.
RESOURCE LIST FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Micronesia, or to 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.
A note of caution: As you surf these sites, be aware that you will find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to give opinions and advice based on their own experiences. The opinions expressed are not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government. You will find people who think deciding to join Peace Corps was the best decision they ever made, and you may find opinions of people who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. As you read these comments, we hope you will keep in mind that the Peace Corps is not for everyone, and no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information About Micronesia and the Republic of Palau
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Pohnpei to information about the FSM and Palau currency. Just click on Micronesia and go from there.
Visit this site to learn all you need to know about any country in the Pacific.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Learn more about the social and political histories of Palau or FSM, respectively.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments of countries around the world, including FSM and Palau.
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information about countries around the world. 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 U.N.
Pohnpei state government website
This site provides information for visitors on the cultures and geography of the four Micronesian states.
On this site you will find general information on Palau, tourism and events sponsored by the Palau Visitors Bureau.
This site offers information on travel, entertainment, weather, etc. for all FSM states.
This site has a variety of pictures of Palau’s many beautiful locations and people along with general information.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This Yahoo site hosts a bulletin board where prospective Volunteers and returned Volunteers can come together.
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.
This site contains information and discussions concerning all aspects of Peace Corps.
This returned Peace Corps Volunteer Web ring links returned Peace Corps Volunteers’ websites together.
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts from countries around the world.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Micronesia
Pacific Magazine is a regional periodical that has interesting articles about many countries in the Pacific region, including FSM and Palau.
The Pacific Islands Report, produced by the Pacific Islands Development Program of the East-West Center, provides news as well as links to government websites, discussion groups, maps, development organizations, and media.
International Development Sites About Micronesia
Nongovernmental organization (NGO) with extensive historical data about FSM and Palau; it also presents current socioeconomic issues to the public.
Asia-Pacific Development Information Program
The Australian government’s international aid program
Secretariat of the Pacific Community Forestry and Agriculture; contains forestry and agriculture information specific to South Pacific, but still applicable background info for FSM.
- Allen, Gerald R. and Roger Steene. Indo-Pacific Coral Reef Field Guide. Monterey, CA: Sea Challengers, reprint edition, 1998.
- Flood, Bo and Beret E. Strong. Pacific Island Legends: Tales from Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and Australia. Hawaii: Bess Press, 1901.
- Karolle, Bruce G. Atlas of Micronesia. Honolulu, Hawaii: Bess Press, 1995.A description of the islands from a sociogeographic perspective.
- Kluge, P.F. The Edge of Paradise: America in Micronesia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.A returned Peace Corps Volunteer’s account of the politically difficult years after independence when the Micronesian Islands were forging new relationships with the United States.
- Myers Robert, F. Micronesian Reef Fishes: A Field Guide for Divers and Aquarists. Guam: Coral Graphics, 1999.
- Ridgell, Reilly. Bending to the Trade Winds: Stories of the Peace Corps Experience in Micronesia. Mangilao: University of Guam Press, 1991. Collection of stories based on the experiences of Volunteers in Chuuk in the early 1970s.
- Troost, Maartin J. The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific. New York, NY: Broadway, 2004. A guy shares his humorous experiences of the two enlightening years he spent in Kiribati (fiction).
- Ward, Martha C. Nest in the Wind: Adventures in Anthropology on a Tropical Island. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press; second edition, 2004. An anthropologist’s humorous account of working in Pohnpei in the early 1970s.
Note: Volunteers recommend bringing books on women’s health and on diet, as eating healthy on an island is challenging and any such reference books are helpful. Note: Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century: A Book by and for Women is available via the ICE Catalog to all Volunteers and staff upon request free of charge (ICENo.HE123).
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, WA: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, NY: Picador, 2003.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, NY: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine ed. From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, CA: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, WA.: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
The postal system of the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia is modeled on the U.S. Postal Service. Costs for mailing letters and packages were identical to those in the United States, but as of January 2006, international rates have been phased in incrementally. FSM and Palau use their own postage stamps, and a customs declaration form is required for packages. Items that ship airmail normally take about two weeks between the U.S. and FSM or Palau, but those that go by sea may take months to arrive. The mail system is generally quite reliable. There is one post office in each of the state capitals of FSM and in Palau; all are open during regular business hours. During training, you can receive mail at the main Peace Corps office in Kolonia, Pohnpei:
“Your Name,” Peace Corps Trainee
PO Box 9
Kolonia, Pohnpei, FM 96941
After you move to your site, you must make arrangements to have your mail sent directly to the state where you serve.
Phone service within the main islands of both FSM and Palau is generally reliable, and long-distance service is available in most locations through the use of a prepaid phone card from FSM Telecom or Palau National Communications Company.
Phone service is not available on most outer islands. The four
FSM states and Palau each have one main telecommunications office in their capitals where you can make telephone calls and access the Internet. Cellphones are available in FSM and Palau; their coverage is limited but expanding.
Calls within FSM cost about $1 to $2 per minute, depending on the time of day. Rates for international calls using a prepaid phone card in FSM were recently reduced to 47 cents per minute off-peak; peak times cost about double. Palau prices are slightly higher. (Refer to www.telecom.fm for more information on FSM communications services and prices and www.palaunet. com for more information for the Republic of Palau.)
If your site is on an outer island, you will communicate with the Peace Corps offices using single-side band (SSB) radio (all outer islands you may serve on have at least one) or a Peace Corps-issued satellite phone, but you will not have international calling capability from your site.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
The main Peace Corps office in Pohnpei and the field offices in the other FSM states and Palau each have one Volunteer computer with limited Internet access for Volunteers. Note that the Peace Corps offices are located in the state capitals and your site could be more than a two-hour drive away.
Telephone offices in state capitals and Palau offer Internet access for about $4 per hour, and there is currently no Internet capability on any of the outer islands except Ulithi, Yap. Some schools in FSM and many schools in Palau have Internet access on site, and Volunteers working with schools may have some Internet access at their school. Partner agencies that Volunteers assist may also have Internet access for Volunteers. The public libraries in Pohnpei and Kosrae offer Internet access at reduced prices. There are also Internet cafes in Palau and Pohnpei, which also charge about $4 per hour. FSM prepaid telecom cards can be used for prepaid dial-up Internet service from all four FSM main islands. Charges are based on traffic, and many users report that a $20 card will last them a month if they do not download large files.
Housing and Site Location
Volunteers in Micronesia are required to live with a host family for training and for the entire two years of service. Many Volunteers find it a challenge to adjust from the independent living they are used to. Household rules, especially for women, are likely to feel very restrictive compared to life in the United States. Yet the rewards tend to be immense. Almost all life in Micronesia revolves around the family, and being “adopted” into a family gives a Volunteer a vehicle to becoming part of the local community. Micronesians live with extended family, and find it extremely odd for anyone to live alone. Living with a family makes it easier to learn the language, provides unique opportunities to become part of the culture, and ensures a safer and more secure environment. Much of a Volunteer’s life in Micronesia is based on interactions with the host family, and these interactions help facilitate community entry. Married couples also live with a family for their entire service.
If you serve on a main island, you will likely live with a family in a small village. On main islands host family sites range from a two-hour drive to the capital to right near the city. Peace Corps/Micronesia is committed to focusing on rural communities. Living in the more rural villages is a very different experience from living in one very close to the capital town. On main islands, you may be surprised by how spread-out houses in a village tend to be. On outer islands, space and land is more limited.
If your primary site is a school in your community, you will likely be within walking or biking distance from the school. Taxis are available and inexpensive in most cases. You will likely use taxis or get rides with host families to get to town if you live in a village outside of town. Only the main island of Yap has a “public transportation” system of sorts; school buses transport workers from villages to the capital in the morning and back in the late afternoon.
Although living situations differ, most host families’ houses in the main islands of FSM and Palau are constructed of corrugated iron and cement, with tin roofs, and have electricity. Most houses have running water inside, but some have outside toilet and shower facilities on their “compound.” Most Volunteers take bucket showers. In most homes, you will find televisions, VCRs or DVD players, telephones, and other Western conveniences. Host families are required to provide you with your own room for sleeping, with a door and lock. Peace Corps staff attempts to identify host family situations for married couples that offer slightly more privacy.
If you are assigned to a lagoon or outer island, you will probably live with a large extended family, and you are not likely to have running water, electricity, or inside toilet facilities.
During “site development”, Peace Corps identifies housing and host families using criteria that include safety and security guidelines. Your host family might provide simple, basic furniture; a bed/mattress, table/desk and chair, and storage space.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will receive several types of allowances. FSM and Palau use the U.S. dollar for currency. Allowances will be deposited quarterly into your local bank account, which we will assist you in setting up once your site is assigned.
You will receive a living allowance of around $383 to $415 per month to cover your living expenses. You will provide $75 of this amount in cash or in-kind as your contribution to your host family. You will eat primarily with your host family. The remainder of your living allowance is provided to fund your needs for toiletries and household supplies, clothing, supplemental food you choose to buy, transportation, reading materials, recreation and entertainment, and other incidentals. A vacation allowance of $24 per month will be deposited with your living allowance. After you swear-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will receive a one-time settling-in allowance of $150 to purchase household necessities such as a futon, lantern, and fan. You may find that even though you are a Volunteer, you receive more remuneration than your Micronesian counterpart or even your supervisor, which can create certain challenges. Additionally you will probably have more material goods and actual money than your host family, issues that should be dealt with sensitively.
Peace Corps/FSM/Palau will likely ask you to travel for training events/conferences. For these instances, you will be given funds to cover the cost of any additional transportation and meals.
Most ATM cards can be used in the capital towns of Pohnpei and in the Republic of Palau. Credit cards and traveler’s checks can be used in tourist areas in Micronesia and Palau. Volunteers are discouraged from supplementing their living allowance with money from home. It is important for Volunteers to live at an economic level similar to that of the people they serve in their communities.
Food and Diet
You will be living and eating with a host family, so your diet will be heavily dependent on what the family eats. In FSM and Palau, staples consist of breadfruit, taro, tapioca, and many varieties of banana, rice, ramen, canned meat, pork, reef fish, and tuna. On ceremonial occasions, dog is eaten in the Eastern Caroline Islands. Canned foods are popular, and SPAM, sardines, and turkey tail are dietary staples among Micronesians. Many items may be cooked with coconut milk, and Micronesians like sugar added to many dishes. Seasonal fruits and vegetables include papaya, soursop, eggplant, cucumber, avocado, and green beans. These fresh fruits and vegetables may not be a usual part of your host family’s diet.
Generally a meal is rice, soy sauce, and a meat/fish product. Local root crops (taro, tapioca), bananas and oranges can also be found at reasonable prices. For the most part, especially in FSM, few local fruits and vegetables are available at the markets. Some Pohnpei and Yap stores carry imported fruits and vegetables when the ship arrives, but they are more expensive and not fresh. In general, more produce is available in the capital of Palau. Cheese is sometimes available in Pohnpei and common in the capital of Palau. Eggs, tofu, onions, and butter cannot usually be found in rural communities, but tend to be available in island capitals after the arrival of a ship. It is important to remember that the host family is doing you a service by allowing you to stay; it is a hardship for them to constantly worry about the Volunteer’s eating needs.
The local diet is often high in fat, cholesterol, and carbohydrates. Vegetarians will find it difficult to maintain their diet both because of the limited variety of fruits and vegetables and because host families expect Volunteers to accept the food that they eat. Most vegetarians choose to modify their diet while serving in Micronesia, at least to include fish.
There is no public transportation in FSM or Palau, except for the limited school bus service in Yap. Volunteers are encouraged to use taxis, which tend to be inexpensive. If you choose to purchase a bicycle, the Peace Corps requires you to wear a helmet and will issue you one. You may travel by boat on a regular basis, and you are required to wear a life jacket (also provided by the Peace Corps) any time you are in a boat. Peace Corps prohibits Volunteers from owning or driving motorized vehicles and riding on motorcycles. Violations of these policies may result in immediate termination of your Peace Corps service.
Geography and Climate
The climate of Micronesia is tropical. Temperatures fluctuate very little annually (86 degrees Fahrenheit is the average year round, but it can seem warmer under the intense sun). Rainfall and humidity are high year-round. Northeast trade winds bring relief from the tropical climate during the first few months of the year, but these breezes are mostly felt directly along the coast. October through May is typically typhoon season in the Pacific. Although most of Micronesia is outside of the main typhoon belt, Chuuk and Yap are the most likely to be affected by typhoon activity.
All of the main islands receive a fair amount of rainfall, but none as much as Pohnpei, arguably the wettest place in the world. Pohnpei averages more than 400 inches of rainfall per year in the upland forests and more than 200 inches on the coast. On these islands, people go on with their daily chores, seemingly oblivious to the rain.
Most social activities in Micronesia center on the family. There are many sporting events, cultural events, and customs throughout the year in which you may be able to participate. Micronesians love watching movies, and most families on main islands own DVD or VCR players.
Going out at night to a bar or restaurant is more difficult for female Volunteers than male Volunteers. Traditionally, local women would only go out to the houses of other family members in the evening. Volunteers under age 35 or 40 will still be considered “youth” per the Micronesian definition of youth, and will likely be under the protective and watchful eyes of strict host families. Standards of social behavior may appear somewhat more relaxed in communities in Palau closer to the capital, but the nuances of what behavior is considered acceptable and not acceptable take time and patience to learn. Kosrae is the most religious of the islands, and Volunteers there may find themselves in church with their families every Sunday. Despite these differences in social activities and norms, most Volunteers learn to enjoy recreational time with Micronesian friends and find their niche over time.
Possible outdoor activities include snorkeling, hiking, and kayaking. There are marvelous waterfalls on most main islands. Caution is necessary, as currents can be strong and flash flooding can occur. SCUBA diving is expensive, but spectacular. Much diving in the FSM and Palau is rated as advanced due to the currents. Volunteers interested in diving should become SCUBA certified before arriving in-country, as not all the islands offer accredited certification classes.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Micronesians in all FSM states and Palau dress conservatively. Micronesian men rarely wear shorts to work. The average Micronesian woman does not wear anything that would expose her thighs or knees. Women typically wear longer skirts and muumuus (loose dresses), often with layers of slips or other skirts underneath so that their thighs are not visible when backlit. Bicycle-type sports shorts can also be worn underneath skirts. Tight blouses, halter-tops, and tank tops are never appropriate for women. Loose-fitting blouses with covered shoulders or T-shirts are appropriate. In your home, loose sleeveless tops that are not “strappy” may be acceptable. Men should wear casual slacks and sports shirts. On some of the outer islands (Western Chuuk and Yap), both men and women go bare-breasted, but women still cover their thighs.
Although island dress tends to be casual, trainees and Volunteers should dress up (long pants for men; nice long skirt/dress and covered shouldered blouses for women) during special occasions and when visiting government offices.
Volunteers are not only guests in the country but also representatives of the Peace Corps. Micronesians will look up to you for dressing well, and earning their respect will help you succeed as a development worker. Peace Corps/ Micronesia’s recommendation is to dress as conservatively as possible until you learn the norms at your permanent site. You may choose to consult with your host family and colleagues. Keep in mind that it is the older, more traditional generation whose support and approval you will need throughout your Peace Corps service for you to be effective. Modeling your attire after the extremes that may be visible in some members of the younger generation can quickly alienate the elders, who are the decision-makers in these communities.
During pre-service training, trainees will be expected to follow these same Micronesian norms of attire.
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. Although Micronesia presents relatively few risks to a Volunteer’s personal safety, harassment is common and there have been infrequent incidents of assault. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, 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. Assuming personal responsibility for your actions and integrating into your community as a member of your host family will help keep you safe. Appropriate dress and behavior will help minimize occurrences of harassment and the risk of assault.
Avoiding bars or isolated areas (such as ports) late at night and not walking alone after dark can also decrease risks. It is also important to be attuned to water hazards, and to check with your program assistant on your island of service before traveling on the water. Peace Corps/Micronesia monitors weather and water conditions, and will, at times, restrict water travel when there is a “high surf warning” or other weather advisory.
Most Micronesia Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. Peace Corps/ Micronesia has established procedures and policies designed to help reduce your risks and will provide ongoing training to enhance your safety and security.
Rewards and Frustrations
Most Peace Corps Micronesia Volunteers have rewarding personal and professional experiences that are with them for the rest of their lives, but you will inevitably encounter frustrations. Collaborating organizations and host families do not always provide the support they intended due to cultural and family obligations, changing financial situations, or illness/obligations that cause people to unexpectedly travel off-island for long periods of time. The pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to. Family, not work, is the priority of almost all Micronesians. Some Micronesians are understandably hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old in the name of “development.” For these reasons and many others, the Peace Corps experience of adapting to and living in a new culture and environment is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys.
You will have personal responsibility and independence in your work in a way that you have not had in any other job. You will initially be a listener and an observer, and you may do little else for your first six months of service. Micronesians have their own goals and community priorities, and your biggest task will be to acquire an understanding of what they want for themselves, their family, and their community. You may find yourself in situations where you have little guidance and want to motivate your community partners. You may work for months without seeing any visible impact from your efforts and may not receive any feedback. Development is a slow process. Progress may come only after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
Your impact on the ambitions and English language skills of a child, your lifelong friendship with your host sister, or the computer skills you teach to a colleague are each significant accomplishments. You will feel a sense of accomplishment by focusing on your positive impact on the people around you and on your own personal growth and experiences.
You will need maturity, flexibility, open mindedness, resourcefulness, and a good sense of humor. Micronesians are hospitable, friendly, and warm people. The Peace Corps staff, host families, colleagues, and fellow Volunteers will help support you through times of challenge and in moments of success. Most Volunteers feel that the peaks of their service are well worth the difficult times and leave Micronesia feeling that they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service.
Overview of Pre-Service Training
When you first join us in Pohnpei, the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia, you will participate in approximately nine weeks of pre-service training (PST). PST will help you to learn about your host country and island, learn about what it will be like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in FSM/Palau, and learn about yourself.
The goals of Peace Corps/Micronesia’s training program are to give you a “jump start” in learning about the culture and language of your host island, to help prepare you for community entry into the community in which you will serve, and to train you to be an effective observer/cultural student. PST helps prepare Volunteers to be development facilitators who can help their community prioritize local needs and desires and help initiate efforts to address these needs. During PST, you will learn some skills that will help you begin to get comfortable in a classroom environment. You will be introduced to the concepts of capacity building and sustainable development; you will have the opportunity to learn about local organizations, institutions, and leaders; and you will start to meet community partners. The goal of pre-service training is to help you successfully start a learning process that will continue throughout your service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Micronesia.
Pre-service training consists of two phases. Phase I is conducted in Pohnpei and lasts approximately two to three weeks. This phase focuses on administrative and medical needs, PACA (participatory analysis for community action) introduction, gender and diversity differences, and general skills. Site selection also occurs during Phase I, and trainees will learn which island and community they will serve. Phase II is community-based training that lasts about six weeks. This training is held in each of the FSM states/Palau where trainees will be serving, and focuses on language and cultural skills.
Throughout training and to encourage community integration, trainees spend as much time as possible in a rural community setting away from the town centers. Trainees will live with host families during both phases. They learn about the daily life of Micronesians—their customs, attitudes, beliefs, morals, values, worldview, language, diet, and more.
A set of Peace Corps training competencies (technical, behavioral, cross cultural, medical, safety, and language) will drive activities throughout pre-service training. Evaluations will be conducted during PST so that trainees have ample opportunity to self-assess and to get feedback from training staff. Informal feedback will be given on a daily basis.
Peace Corps/FSM/Palau staff members will do all that they can to give you opportunities to learn about Micronesian culture, attitudes, and worldview. They will work hard to help you immerse in an environment that helps you learn the basics you need to know to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. Ultimately, you will be in control of your learning and have the responsibility to make the most of the learning opportunities you will have.
It is a privilege to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. Trainees who successfully complete pre-service training and are recommended to be sworn-in as FSM/Palau Volunteers have earned this privilege through their perseverance, hard work, and patience.
The richness and quality of your experience over the next two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer will depend largely on your ability to participate in the everyday life of your community and of Micronesia as a whole. This ability depends upon your understanding of and adaptation to the norms and customs of Micronesian society.
Like fluency in a language, fluency in a culture requires that the student understand the basic nature of cultures and how they are used, mastering some general rules of cultural “grammar” and a basic vocabulary. Pre-service training will give you opportunities to begin to become a student of Micronesian culture. As with language, however, fluency itself comes only with practice. Cultural “practice” takes place in Micronesian society, in the infinite variety of situations and settings that are there for you to discover. Your host family, your language and cross-cultural facilitator, your program assistant, and the contacts you make will be your most important sources of cross-cultural “conversation.” The more you make use of these helpful people, the more you will learn.
Throughout PST, cross-cultural training is also woven into training activities focused on technical, language, safety and security, and medical subjects. During Phase II, training is geared toward learning about the culture of your island of service to help improve your skills of perception, communication, and facilitation. Topics such as Micronesian community structure, family structure, gender and development, and traditional and political leadership structures are also addressed.
The best way to integrate into another culture is through language. Knowledge of the local language will help you integrate into your community. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills are key to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. Language study will thus occupy the largest segment of training time.
Although many Micronesians speak English and are willing and sometimes eager to speak with you, the extent to which you truly integrate and what activities you can actively participate in will be closely tied to your ability to speak the local language. As many as 18 languages are spoken throughout Micronesia, and Peace Corps/Micronesia provides training in as many as 11 of them. As a Peace Corps trainee, you will begin to study the language of your island of service. Micronesian instructors teach language classes with groups of three or four trainees.
In addition to time in class, 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 that you can continue to build on. Prior to your swearing-in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.
By the end of PST, trainees are expected to achieve a minimum of level of proficiency. You must successfully meet these minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer.
Technical training will help you better understand the education and development challenges in Micronesia today. Peace Corps/Micronesia focuses on introducing you to an array of local resources to use as well as experts with whom you may collaborate throughout your service. Training places great emphasis on learning how to identify the needs of the community in which you will live and work, transferring skills you have, and helping your community identify resources to meet its needs.
By the end of training, trainees should have a basic understanding of the education and youth context, methods for investigating and analyzing community interests, teaching English as a second language (TESL) teaching techniques, and educator resources, including tools and manuals.
Goals for Peace Corps/Micronesia’s TESL & education for community development projects will be reviewed. You will learn about PACA, which is a set of tools to analyze community activities and priorities. You will learn about how Micronesian communities make decisions. And you will learn techniques that will help you be successful in the classroom.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You will be expected to practice preventive healthcare 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 Micronesia. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living environment, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also discussed.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces risk in your 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
Peace Corps/Micronesia’s training program aims to provide trainees and Volunteers with ongoing opportunities to continue their learning and development, to share their successes and challenges, and to develop strategies for working through the inevitable bumps that will occur along the way. During your service, there are usually three general types of training events:
- In-service trainings: Provides opportunities to focus on relationship development with host families, agencies, and communities during the first two to six months of service. Host agencies and host families are invited to share their experiences, roles, and responsibilities and to troubleshoot any issues. The focus is on finding creative solutions early in a Volunteer’s service, as Peace Corps/Micronesia recognizes that the first six months of service tend to be the most challenging.
- Mid-service conference: Provides opportunities for Volunteers to review their first year, reassess their personal and project objectives, and plan for their second year of service.
- Close-of-service conference: Provides opportunities for Volunteers to review their Peace Corps service and plan for closure to their Peace Corps experience, preparing Volunteers for the future after Peace Corps service. Training events are integrated and interrelated, from the predeparture orientation in the U.S. through the end of your service. They are planned, implemented, and evaluated cooperatively by the training staff, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN MICRONESIA
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Because medical services may be inadequate or unavailable in some host countries, Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease.
Peace Corps/Micronesia maintains its own health unit in Kolonia, Pohnpei, with a physician’s assistant and a full-time nurse. These medical officers provide or manage Volunteer healthcare. If you are assigned to another state or Palau, healthcare will be provided by professionals in the capital center or at remote sites.
Volunteers must be prepared to use these providers and facilities for initial and follow-up care. Local hospitals, clinics, or other healthcare facilities are typically very basic—smaller, older, and less well-kept and maintained than the U.S. norm. There are fewer supplies and equipment. Providers are typically a Micronesian medical officer or another foreign national trained in Fiji in basic medicine. Trained specialists are generally limited. Local care, including basic dental and gynecological care, will be accessed and utilized by Volunteers whenever possible.
If you become seriously ill and local resources are inadequate, you will be transported to a medical facility in Guam, Hawaii, or Washington, D.C.
Remember that you have elected to serve in a developing country. Your life here will probably be very different from life back home. These differences extend to healthcare. If you have concerns about healthcare in-service, now would be a good time to re-examine your commitment to serve.
Health Issues in Micronesia
Common health problems among Volunteers include skin infections, diarrhea, respiratory infections, dental problems, gynecological infections, parasitic infections (skin and intestines), unintentional injuries and accidents (especially bike), mental health concerns, and water-related injuries or conditions. Dog bites are a concern in some states, but rabies is not found in Micronesia. Dengue fever, transmitted by mosquitoes, does occur, but not malaria. Volunteers have also been infected with leptospirosis (transmitted in contaminated water).
Helping You Stay Healthy
Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary immunizations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Immunizations against hepatitis A and B, tetanus, typhoid, polio, measles, and influenza are required by Peace Corps and must be current during your service. Upon your arrival in Micronesia, you will receive a medical handbook. Within one week of arrival, you will receive a comprehensive medical kit with supplies to take care of routine illnesses and first-aid needs. These items are intended for your own use and can be periodically restocked through the Peace Corps health unit.
You will initially be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other medical supplies you require. You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use; Peace Corps will provide these medications and supplies after three months.
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 Micronesia will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Micronesia, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept a certain amount of responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to standards of the United States. Your most important responsibilities are to provide full information about your past medical history and any current problems to allow for proper evaluation and treatment; to follow all prescribed therapies and other medical recommendations; to engage only in responsible and safe sex; to keep your immunizations up to date; to drink alcohol moderately, if at all; to avoid illegal drugs; to sleep with a mosquito net in mosquito-infested areas; and to drink plenty of safe water.
HIV/AIDS occurs in Micronesia and cases are on the rise. Micronesians generally lack accurate information on the transmittal and consequences of HIV/AIDS. Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV and other STIs. 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 STDs. Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancies. 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.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is a health condition that is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions requiring medical attention, but it may also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and 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 the Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service can be met. The majority of Volunteers who became pregnant in the past have been medically separated.
Acute and routine gynecological exams/breast exams are performed in-country with local providers or the medical officer on Pohnpei.
Tampons can be found in all capital centers, but brands/sizes are limited and they are expensive. Be prepared to bring extra tampons with you or have them mailed to you during service.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
Medical Kit Contents
Acetaminophen tablets (Tylenol)
Allergy or cold tablets (Actifed)
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Ana-Kit® or EpiPen® (for those with a history of significant allergies)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin or Bactroban)
Antiseptic skin cleanser (Hibiclens)
Butoconazole vaginal cream (Femstat or other vaginal yeast cream)
Butterfly skin closures
Clotrimazole cream or lotion (Mycelex)
Condoms with and without nonoxynol
DAN Emergency Handbook (for certified SCUBA divers)
Diphenhydramine capsules (Benadryl)
Elastic bandages (various sizes)
Ibuprofen tablets (Motrin)
Isopropyl alcohol pads
Gauze wrap (various sizes)
Latex gloves (one pair)
Multivitamins and mineral supplements (generic Centrum and calcium carbonate)
Nasal decongestant spray
Oral rehydration solution
Permethrin rinse (Nix or similar product)
Sunscreen (with SPF 15-30)
Swimmer’s ear drops
Tetrahydrozoline eyedrops (Visine)
Throat lozenges (Cepacol)
Triamcinolone cream (Aristocort)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since the time 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 pregnancies 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, you should contact your physician’s office, 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 shortly after you arrive in Micronesia. Micronesia is malaria-free, so you will not need to take anti-malaria pills.
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 months, you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or non-prescribed 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 one 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. We discourage 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 their use has been recommended by an ophthalmologist 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 healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare 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 healthcare 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. Property 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 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey 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 and security 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 within the Volunteer’s control.
Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, 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, 43 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the evening between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.— with most assaults occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: Assaults usually occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied and in 55 percent of physical assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent 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; Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise; and Crime Statistics and Analysis.
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.
The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/ trainees in FSM/Palau as compared to all other Inter-America and Pacific region programs as a whole, from 2002–2006. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population.
It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer
and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full
months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way
to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps’ classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
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.
What if you become a victim of a violent crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at [email protected]
Security Issues in Micronesia
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you must be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. As with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Micronesia. 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 capital towns; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. The following are safety concerns in Micronesia of which you should be aware.
Volunteers in Micronesia may find themselves spending a significant amount of time crossing open water to reach other islands. Since boating accidents can occur, Peace Corps requires that you wear a life jacket whenever you are traveling by boat. (Peace Corps provides a life jacket)
Physical or sexual assault, harassment (e.g., being called derogatory names or receiving overt sexual comments), and theft can occur in Micronesia, just as they do in the United States. As in the United States, you can avoid much of the risk by changing your behavior. Conditions that contribute to risk include being out after the local curfew, being alone in the evening or in isolated areas, being in a known high-crime area, and sleeping in an unlocked place. During pre-service training, you will learn how to minimize the risk of assault and discuss strategies for dealing and coping with harassment in Micronesia. Should you ever be assaulted, the medical staff will be available to help you on a confidential basis.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to assume a large responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your belongings are secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Micronesia, do what you would do if you moved to a large 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 Micronesia undoubtedly requires that you accept restrictions on your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention, some of it negative. This is especially true in the capitals, where they are more anonymous. In their villages, Volunteers have “family,” friends, and colleagues who look out for them. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively and do not respond to unwanted attention. Keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch; 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.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Micronesia
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. Micronesia’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Micronesia office will keep Volunteers informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be provided in Volunteer meetings and in memorandums from the country director and safety and security coordinator. Additionally, high surf conditions, which may interfere with Volunteers’ intended travel plans, are communicated through each field office. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Micronesia. 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 your two-year service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and 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, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection criteria are based in part on any relevant site history, access to transportation and other essential services, availability of communications, quality host families, and other support needs.
You will also learn about the Peace Corps/Micronesia’s detailed emergency action plan in the event of a natural disaster or civil or political unrest. 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, Volunteers in Micronesia will gather at predetermined locations until the situation resolves itself 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 Peace Corps safety and security coordinator. 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 CROSS-CULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and 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, however, in other ways it poses challenges. In Micronesia, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from our own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Micronesia.
In Micronesia, residents of lagoon and outer islands 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. Micronesians are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Micronesia, 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 will find that they do not have the same level of independence as they do 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 Micronesia
The Peace Corps staff in Micronesia recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of cultures, religions, ethnic groups, ages, 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
Micronesia is a traditional and predominantly Christian society. Palau is probably the most modern of the five major islands, and female Volunteers posted there find that they may be able to jog and even wear shorts (long ones) without causing undue attention. In FSM, however, local women are more traditional and almost never wear shorts or pants. In addition, there are strict rules about dating, which are apt to be imposed on female Volunteers by their host families.
Micronesians have had little experience with women who have professional roles or who live independently of their families. Micronesian women, for the most part, support the strict gender role distinctions, and female Volunteers often find that they are expected to participate in family chores such as doing laundry. Most female Volunteers feel that serving in Micronesia is much more difficult for females than for males. Clearly, one of the larger challenges of living in Micronesia is coping effectively and constructively with the different status of women and men and the different standards of behavior to which they are held.
Depending on where they are placed, female Volunteers may find that being alone increases the possibility of being harassed. Besides receiving more unwanted and inappropriate attention from men in Micronesia than men in the United States, female Volunteers may have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the professional respect of colleagues in the workplace. Female Volunteers may also experience resentment from Micronesian women for attitudes and behaviors that the women see as traditionally male.
Peace Corps/Micronesia encourages female Volunteers to keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public (e.g., not smoking or drinking) to help avoid unwanted attention and an undesirable reputation.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Because America has been involved with the affairs of Micronesia for more than half a century, Micronesians are somewhat used to Americans and the complexity and diversity of American society. That is not to say that you will not find prejudice toward people of color here. Because of the long and complex relationships between Micronesia and Asian nations, Volunteers of Asian heritage often report feeling less welcome than other Volunteers.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Age is greatly respected in Micronesia, and older Volunteers are likely to be taken more seriously and given greater leeway. Although seniors are in the minority among Volunteers, they find that their age is a definite plus in Micronesia. However, the loss of personal privacy and independence associated with living with a host family may be particularly difficult.
It is not uncommon for younger Volunteers to look to older Volunteers for advice and support. Some seniors find this a very enjoyable part of their Volunteer experience, while others choose not to fill this role. Overall, senior Volunteers are highly valued for the wealth of experience they bring to their communities and counterparts.
Pre-service training may present special challenges for older trainees. You may encounter frustration in having your specific needs met in areas such as timing, presentation, and style, and you may need to be assertive in developing an effective individual approach to language learning.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Many local churches view homosexuality as going against Christian norms, and many Micronesians believe that gay and lesbian relationships do not exist among Micronesians. Homosexual or bisexual behavior is not likely to be accepted in your host community and you may be hassled in public places or in the workplace if you are open about your sexual orientation. That being said, there are certainly gay and lesbian Micronesians, and some of them are well integrated into Micronesian society. You may serve for two years without meeting another gay Volunteer. Lesbians may have to deal with constant questions about boyfriends, marriage, and sex (as do all women). Wearing an “engagement ring” may help. Gay men may have to deal with talk of conquests, girl watching, and dirty jokes.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Half of the population in Micronesia is Roman Catholic and half belongs to a variety of Protestant denominations. Volunteers are required to live with a host family, so many will be expected to attend religious services with their family. In Kosrae, no activities are permitted on Sunday except those associated with the Sabbath. Most Volunteers find effective ways to deal with this issue and come to feel quite at home in Micronesia.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
As a Volunteer with a special need or disability, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Micronesia, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes toward individuals with special needs and may discriminate against them. But Micronesia has stringent laws against such discrimination and receives federal funds from the United States for various social and educational programs that support the disabled. Still, there is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States.
As part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Micronesia without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Micronesia 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.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage will I be allowed to bring to Micronesia?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance. 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 authorized baggage 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 allowance of 50 pounds for any one bag. You will be responsible for any charges if your luggage exceeds the Peace Corps’ limits.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (short-wave 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. Please check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for a detailed list of permitted and prohibited items at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/ airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm.
What is the electric current in Micronesia?
It is 110 volts and standard US 2 prong. There are electrical surges and power outages that can put a strain on voltage converters and appliances, so a good-quality surge protector is recommended. But remember that not all Volunteers will have electricity in their homes. A variety of batteries are available in Micronesia, but the cost is up to two times what it is in the United States, and the batteries are generally of poor quality.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a living allowance, which should cover their expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. 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 may require permission from your country director. The Peace Corps is not able to provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance. Please realize that visitors’ actions may have an impact on your reputation or effectiveness in your work. Extended stay visitors should not be staying with the Volunteer as it may cause a stressed situation with your host family.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
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 such 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 overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage. Additionally, in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
No. Operation of motorized vehicles by Volunteers is generally prohibited, except on vacations outside of Micronesia. We do recommend keeping a valid U.S. driver’s license. Most travel on the capital island is by taxi. Outer island travel ranges from kayaks and small outboard motorboats to lots of walking.
What should I bring as gifts for Micronesian friends and my host family?
This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; T-shirts from your home, hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away. Presenting gifts can cause a dependency or a “handout” expectation attitude, so making a habit of providing gifts should be avoided.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish training, and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are assigned to individual sites during Phase I of pre-service training. This gives Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s skills and interests prior to site assignment. You may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, but keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process, and Peace Corps/Micronesia works hard to create matches between sites and Volunteers that support the developmental needs of a Micronesian community and are a good fit for the Volunteer. Most Volunteers will live in small towns or rural villages, in some cases on outer islands.
Main island sites will be no more than two hours from the state capital, but Volunteers assigned to outer islands may have to travel for more than a day to get to a state capital.
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 States, you should 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, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For non-emergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580, extension 2502 or 2522.
Can I call home from Micronesia?
International phone service to and from FSM and Palau is very good relative to that in other developing countries. Most Volunteers call home collect or use international calling cards, which can be purchased at all telecommunications offices and certain other locations. Not all host family homes have telephones, but public phones are available at the main telecommunications office.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
Cellphone service exists only on Palau, the four FSM state capitals, and the outer island of Ulithi, Yap. Most U.S. cellphones are not compatible with the GSM system and the frequency used here. Cellphones and local SIM cards are sold in both FSM and in Palau.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Many businesses in the state capitals and Palau have Internet access. Because of the lack of telephone and electrical infrastructure in outlying areas, Volunteers posted to rural sites may be limited to sending and receiving e-mail on their occasional visits to state capitals. Internet access is not available on most outer islands. Before leaving the United States, many prospective Volunteers sign up for free Web-based e-mail accounts, such as Yahoo or Hotmail, which they can access worldwide.
Some Volunteers bring their laptop computers, but they are responsible for insuring and maintaining them. The Peace Corps will not replace stolen computers and strongly encourages those who bring them to get personal property insurance. Because of the high value of laptops, owners significantly increase their risk of becoming a victim of crime. Heat and high humidity conditions are damaging to most electronic equipment. There is little to no technical support available and replacement parts are usually not available on island. If you bring a laptop, be sure to buy a high-quality surge protector, as electrical lapses and surges are common. Also note that paying for Internet access via your laptop will be your responsibility, and your site may or may not have phone line service.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Micronesia 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 we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. Although you can get almost everything you need in Micronesia, it is advisable to bring some essentials, find out what you really need once you are in-country, and then write home to have things sent to you. Having your family or friends buy what you need may be a little cheaper than buying things locally.
Be mindful that sites in Micronesia greatly vary—you won’t be able to pack for your exact location until you get your specific site placement. You may find yourself on an outer island requiring nothing more than two thus (loincloths)/or a lava-lava (sarong-type wrap skirt for women) and a spear (for fishing). Extra room in your bags to add things you obtain when you get here may be more valuable than extra things from the U.S. Locally appropriate clothing (particularly local skirts for women) is available here, and you will likely be less comfortable in skirts you bring from the states. Electronics are much more expensive here and selection is limited, so we suggest you bring what you must have from the U.S. An outer island Volunteers states that “As soon as I figured out I had an outer island location. I left about 20 pounds of things with my host family back on Pohnpei.”
Note: don’t bring anything too nice as everything will receive a lot of wear and tear and may get lost, borrowed, or taken.
- No more than three pairs of casual lightweight pants for work (many jobs require that you wear pants, as does the Peace Corps during training, Most Volunteers say that jeans are not appropriate as they are too hot. Quick-dry travel pants, such as those made by Ex-Officio or Northface can be very practical).
- One or two pairs of lightweight, slightly dressier pants
- Four to five button-down or polo-style shirts (anything short sleeved with a collar, the lighter the weight, the more comfortable; some Volunteers say button-up are cooler)
- Approximately three pairs of lightweight shorts (athletic and regular). Shorts should be loose and knee length. Note that shorts can be bought on main islands.
- Flip flops
Note that lightweight slacks, flip-flops or sandals, and a nice Hawaiian-style shirt is appropriate for almost any occasion—it is considered professional for work and is also proper church attire for males.
- One or two pairs of loose, lightweight, casual long pants and lightweight long-sleeve shirts (protection from mosquitoes at night.)
- One or two pairs of long, loose shorts (knee length) One should be quick-dry shorts to wear with a swimsuit. While long shorts may be purchased on island, smaller women will have difficulty finding a size to fit them here.
- Two to three loose skirts (not see-through) that cover your knees (Note: you could easily just bring one or two skirts as you will want to buy colorful local skirts for yourself and will likely be given some as gifts by host families also. You will accumulate many skirts throughout your Peace Corps service!)
- A couple of sleeveless tops that are not too tight (you will likely only wear these in your home, depending on your island)
- One to two casual, conservative dresses (not see-through and not sleeveless). You can buy local dresses and have them made, so you really only need one or two dresses to start with.
- Four to five button-down or polo-style shirts (anything short sleeved and dressier than a T-shirt—the lighter the weight, the more comfortable. Most Volunteers recommend button-up shirts for coolness. Cap-type sleeves are fine and can also be cooler.)
- Flip-flops (worn with skirts and dresses and appropriate for almost any occasion. You will need these, but they can also be bought here in Micronesia)
- Cotton half slip or biking shorts for wearing under skirts (nylon is too hot) Men and Women (note that this list is somewhat redundant with the separate male/female ones above)
- Not more than six T-shirts (without controversial topics printed on them and stay away from white). Bring some oldies and some favorites, your lucky shirts, etc. You can always get more here. Some Volunteers find that some solid colored T-shirts are useful as they can appear more dressy with a skirt or slacks.
- One sweatshirt or long-sleeve shirt with some warmth to it.
- Three to five pairs of socks for hiking or exercising and if you anticipate going running a lot.
- Two-week supply of underwear (cotton is highly recommended) 95
- Two swimsuits (Women swim in shorts and tanks/shirts so you will likely only wear a swimsuit underneath your shorts and shirt. Men will swim in long shorts. Generally Micronesian men also wear a T-shirt to swim.)
- Lightweight rain jacket (breathable may be most comfortable); can be paired with the sweatshirt or long-sleeve shirt for those few days that may feel chilly
- Hat with sun protection (best to bring something that does not blow off easily while on a boat)
- Sleepwear (many female Volunteers sleep in a T-shirt and long skirt or shorts as local women do)
- Bandana (can be bought locally)
- A pair of running/walking or athletic shoes
- One or two pairs of sturdy sandals (e.g., Tevas, Chacos or Keens) for walking/hiking on rough terrain. These should not be leather because leather will mold and rot. You can also use these sandals or athletic shoes for hiking (hiking boots are too warm, too heavy, and will likely mold very quickly). Most Micronesians hike on any terrain using no footwear or only flip-flops!
- Reef walkers/water shoes (to protect your feet from coral and other sharp things while you are in the water); some Volunteers use their Teva-type shoes. Note about shoes: Flip-flops will be worn 95 percent of the time, and the custom in Micronesia is to remove your shoes when entering homes or some office buildings. If you are not used to wearing flip-flops, make sure to bring a comfortable pair from the U.S. because those sold in stores here lack arch support and are made of tough plastic. Any shoe that is not a slip-on is impractical. Other than the below exceptions, there is really no situation where a male Volunteer would need a closed dress shoe:
- On Kosrae it is necessary to have closed-toe shoes for Christmas marching. Additionally male trainees are generally asked to wear closed shoes for swear-in.
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
(a medical kit is distributed within first few days, so we are only noting items you will need in addition to that kit)
- Start-up supply of basic toiletries- shampoo, deodorant, shaving supplies. Females may want to bring a one-year supply of tampons & panty liners. (Liners are great for absorbing moisture and reducing yeast infections. Both tampons and liners have limited availability in Micronesia, and what you can find tends to be extremely expensive)
- Start-up supply of nonprescription medicines.
- Three-month supply of prescription medicines
- Two pairs of prescription eyeglasses (if you wear them) and eyeglass repair kit
- One bath towel (fast drying), one beach towel, and one hand towel. Note that you can buy towels here, but that you will need at least one towel upon arrival and moving to your host family)
- “Pack” or quick-drying towel
- Two flat sheets with pillowcases (sheet can be purchased on most main islands, but supply is very limited and prices are high).
- Nail clippers and nail file (can be bought on main island) Kitchen
Although you will be living with a host family, eating with them, and likely using their kitchen equipment if you cook, you may choose to bring some items of your own (on most islands, your host family may be resistant to the idea of a male PCV cooking)
- A good can opener is highly recommended. You can buy a can opener here, but choices are limited.
- Your favorite recipes. Note that many ingredients may not be available here. Miscellaneous
- Sturdy backpack or duffel bag for three-to-four-day trips. A waterproof or water resistant one is ideal.
- Waterproof “dry” bag. Many PCVs consider these incredibly invaluable, and they normally cannot be bought in Micronesia.
- Ziploc storage bags—sandwich and gallon size (**Note plastic bags CAN be bought in Micronesia, but they are expensive and choices are limited)
- Daypack or small backpack
- Fanny pack or money belt
- Cheap water-resistant or waterproof watch
- Small travel alarm clock (and extra batteries)
- 2 pairs of sunglasses with UV protection (a spare is crucial)
- Swiss army knife or Leatherman
- Camera (consider an underwater housing - many wonderful photo opportunities exist under the water for both snorkelers and SCUBA divers. The housing will also help protect your camera in this extremely wet environment) Current PCVs strongly recommend digital cameras for sending pictures back home and sharing among Volunteers. Bring extra batteries and film if you have a standard camera.
- Walkman or CD/cassette player with electrical cord and CDs and tapes (power and outlets in Micronesia are the same as in the US—standard 110) PCVs suggest bringing burned CDs. They will get ruined, so better than the originals getting ruined.
- Aloe (for sunburn)
- Waterproof/water resistant flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries. Rechargeable ones are ideal, as waste disposal is a significant problem on Micronesian islands. You may only have the option of using disposable ones, however, if your site is on an “outer island” without continual electricity. These days, even many “outer islands” have a generator and occasionally electricity that would permit you to charge batteries.
- Sleeping mat or pad (note that a straw sleeping mat can easily be bought here in Micronesia). Families generally sleep on straw mats and may consider this adequate for a Volunteer. However foam pads can usually be found on-island.
- Snorkeling/SCUBA gear (with mesh carrying bag and defogger.)
- Tropical/Micronesian marine life identification book (optional)
- High-quality water bottles (e.g., Nalgene)
- A few U.S. dollars (There is a cash station in Kolonia, Pohnpei, and in Palau, although you will have limited access as a trainee)
- Sewing kit with strong thread
- Good scissors/razor (for cutting hair, etc.)
- PCVs may want to consider a daily oil-free facial lotion with UV protection. Do note that PC provides sun block to PCVs, but if you are sensitive to breakouts, you may want to bring something special for your face.
- Start up supply of Duct tape (wonderful for everything! Note that good quality duct tape can also be purchased on most main islands, after you have settled in)
- Start-up supply of stationery, envelopes, and pens (again—you can buy all this on the main island) Do not bring U.S. stamps, as FSM and Palau use their own stamps, although the postal service here is part of the US postal service system.
- World and U.S. maps
- Copies of photos of your family, friends, and home (keep in mind that originals can get ruined)
- Backgammon, Frisbee, and cards and other travel games. Host families love to play games with PCVs.
- Books. (Peace Corps/Micronesia has a good selection of paperbacks and technical references, but, you should bring any reference materials you feel will be essential to your job. PCVs tend to trade recreational reading books)
- Rock climbers’ clips for hanging or attaching things
- Small travel hammock
What Not To Bring:
- Anything that is especially valuable/sentimental to you.
- If you would be very upset if it broke, got lost, molded or rotted, or was stolen, reconsider your decision to bring it.
- Fancy jewelry. Lots of cool local shell jewelry is available here!
- Expensive Digital Cameras—this is an incredibly beautiful place and you may want to record it in images but the weather is disaster for electronic equipment. Plan on bringing protective gear for any camera you bring.
- Laptop—a few Volunteers have laptops, and are quite happy that they brought them. Think carefully, however, if the advantages to you personally of having these items outweigh the disadvantages. Over 2 years, moisture damage to electronic equipment is extremely common.
Don’t count on bringing the item home with you at the end of your service. If you are on an outer island, you may not have regular access to electricity. The Peace Corps office on each island has a shared PCV computer that you will have limited access to. Many local schools have computers that you will likely have some access to if you are assigned to a school. Laptops can be extremely useful to some PCVs, but some PCVs find the hassle and worries of having one are greater than the advantages. Others are extremely glad that they brought them. Some PCVs find that a USB storage device (jumpdrive, memory stick) gives them great flexibility to work on a variety of computers in different locations. Will bringing these items/modern conveniences enhance your Peace Corps experience or take away from it? These are personal decisions, and equipment that is invaluable for one PCV is a burden to another.
It will most likely be easier for your family to mail something to you that you forgot or later deem necessary, than to send something extra back home that you find you don’t need.
Suggestions for gifts for Host Families:
- Good kitchen knife
- Movies (DVDs)
- Good can opener
- Small bottles of Maple Syrup (Micronesians love pancakes)
- Small photo of you in a frame —possibly you and your US family—your host family may love this!
- T-shirts or coffee mugs with American stuff like: I love New York, I love Chicago, Baseball Teams, Football Teams, Batman, Pepsi, etc. Shirts sized L or XL.
- Anything else from your home state
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 three-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 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 supplemental health coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated for insurance. This is especially true when insurance companies know you have predictable expenses and are in an upper age bracket.)
- 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.
- Make a package(s) of things you may want your family to send later.
- 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.