Packing list for Kazakhstan

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This section of the Welcome Book has been thoroughly debated among Volunteers in [[Kazakhstan]]. Previous versions written by Volunteers have been described as “misleading and useless” by other Volunteers. There is no perfect list! Having received input from a number of current Volunteers, it is safe to say that everyone agrees that you can buy everything that you need in Kazakhstan and that bringing less is actually better. With that caveat, this section contains several lists of the “basics” and the most common recommendations from Volunteers.  
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Please scroll down to see text of the report. Don't forget to click 'save' after you edit.
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Remember you have a 100-pound baggage weight restriction and that Kazakhstanis have been living here for centuries without imports!
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During training, you will primarily need “business casual” attire, though there are occasions (such as the swearing-in ceremony) when more formal attire is appropriate (jackets for men, dresses/skirts for women).
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<center><big>'''Peace Corps Volunteer Blogs'''</big><br>
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''(An editable report)''<br>
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'''By: [[Will Dickinson]], [[Mike Sheppard | Michael Sheppard]], and [http://www.peacecorpswiki.org/Peace_Corps_Volunteer_Blogs?title=Peace_Corps_Volunteer_Blogs&action=history PeaceCorpsWiki users]'''</center>
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===Luggage ===
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==Introduction==
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Your luggage should be durable, lightweight, and easy to carryDuffel bags and backpacks without frames are best. When choosing luggage, remember you will be hauling it around on foot. There are no “Red Caps” or luggage carts in this part of the world. If you cannot carry it by yourself, do not bring it!
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Since the late 1990s, Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have been posting their experiences in Peace Corps (PC) on the internet in “web-logs”, now colloquially called “blogs”. The number of volunteer blogs has grown dramatically in just the past few years: from 1,300 in Aug 2006 to over 5,000 in Dec 2008In today’s Peace Corps, a blog is viewed as a normal supplemental component of service and as an open newsletter for the volunteer to report about their service as it happens. The ability to publish and update information in real time facilitates the creation of new connections between the volunteers in service and those that access the blogs. This is a remarkable way to view grass roots international development across countries and regions; with extensive possibilities for information exchange that is site specific. Nevertheless, the freedom associated with this ability to publish in real-time has given rise to major issues concerning privacy and professionalism within the Peace Corps community and the countries which host Peace Corps volunteers. There are few guidelines and rules, or established precedents, regarding blog content or the method of posting and, as a result, those that have found themselves in this indeterminate area have often met with brash subjectivity.  
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===Clothing===
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==What is a volunteer blog?==
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The clothing you bring should be durable and versatile. The weather in Kazakhstan varies quite a bit. The summers are very hot. Spring and fall are rainy and the streets get pretty muddy. The winter is cold and windy with snow and rainKazakhstanis dress more formally than Americans, and there will be many occasions where you can dress up. You will probably be hand washing all of your clothes in a bathtub, so do not bring too many white things as they will get pretty dirty (though bleach is available).  
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* A series of various length postings of text and photos that chronicle the activities, daily schedule, personal interactions, stories, essays and photos a volunteer felt were important to describing aspects of their PC service.
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* A free and open form of expression by a volunteer about their service: the majority of these blogs are open and available to anyone that wishes to access them.
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* A legacy piece that a volunteer can refer back to: for pleasure, for evidence of work and creative expression, or for proof of interdisciplinary abilities, skills, and experiences encountered during the Peace Corps.
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* A composition that captures moods as well as insights, inquisitive questions and innovative ideas. The Peace Corps experience, and reflections on that experience, often mean a great deal to a returned volunteer’s search for happiness in their career and life direction.
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* A volunteer can refer to their blog much as if it were a virtual scrapbook. Many volunteers record thoughts and experiences in a notebook or sketch book that is often bought in country. Unfortunately, over a short period of time, the paper fades or the tome becomes completely illegibleA volunteer’s blog is infinitely more accessible and its lifetime can be indefinite.  
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* These postings can be referenced when applying for jobs or to school or they can be expanded upon for creative writing.
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* As internet service becomes available in more and more places around the world, the obstacles to uploading material to the internet continue to fall.
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* Often, the living conditions of the volunteer dictate that using a laptop is impossible; therefore, every few weeks or months a PCV would be able to transcribe their information onto a blog.
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Professional dress is required, but this does not mean expensive dress. As long as your clothing is neat, clean, and conservative it should be acceptable. A foreigner in Kazakhstan wearing ragged, unmended, unironed clothing is likely to be considered an affront.
 
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Overall, your clothing and shoes should be comfortable and warm, keeping in mind that there may be little heat in the winter and no air conditioning in summer. Both men and women should bring one basic sport jacket/blazer. You may want to bring one suit or dressy outfit, but keep in mind that dry cleaning is not available in many places and you may get only occasional use out of these items. However, business and school dress here can be similar to that in America. Be sure to bring a good supply of lightweight, short-sleeved dress shirts. Tank tops can be worn on occasion, but they are not generally acceptable.
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==Current rules and regulations==
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You will be walking a lot, and all of your shoes should be comfortable and, if possible, waterproof. Good shoes are hard to find, and imported shoes are very expensive, so do not skimp on these. Your shoes will take a beating and wear out quickly, so bring shoes with sturdy soles. Consider bringing an extra pair or two. Also be sure to bring shoes appropriate for all seasons (i.e., sandals, boots, etc.). Locals wear high heels with incredible skill on uneven surfaces and ice. Unless you possess this skill, high heels are not recommended. You will be taking your shoes off and putting them on as you enter and leave homes here, so slip-on shoes are much easier.  
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The official policy concerning volunteer blogs is governed by the Peace Corps Manual, section MS 534.7
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http://files.peacecorps.gov/manuals/manual/500_Administrative_Services/540-549_Computers_and_Information_Processing/MS_543/Use_of_IT_Systems_by_Volunteers_Trainees_RPCVs.pdf#7.0
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Note: It begins to get cold in Kazakhstan in October. Although you can purchase winter clothing in Kazakhstan (you will receive $200 at the end of pre-service training for this purpose), make sure you bring some warm clothes with you (i.e., sweaters, jackets, gloves, and hats). During training (October), you will visit your permanent site. If you are assigned to the northern part of the country, it may already be snowing with temperatures in the 30s.  
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<blockquote>MS 543.7 Websites: Volunteers who create their own Web sites, or post information to Web sites that have been created and maintained by others, should be reminded that, unless password protected, any information posted on the Internet can be accessed by the general public, even if that is not intended. Because search engines regularly index most sites on the Internet, it is possible that members of the public could locate a Volunteer Web site by searching for information about the Peace Corps or a certain country. This is possible even if the Volunteer does not actively promote his/her Web site. Given these realities, Volunteers are responsible for ensuring that their IT use is consistent with the following guidelines:<br>
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7.1 Notification<br>
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7.2 Disclaimer<br>
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7.3 Use of the Peace Corps Logo<br>
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7.4 Cultural Sensitivity<br>
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7.5 Safety and Security<br>
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7.6 Publication Policies</blockquote>
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===General Clothing===
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Most volunteers have access to the Internet and currently over 5,000 volunteers in the past few years have had their own personal blog publicly shared online. The volunteers are aware of the regulations and rules, as they are now taught them during Training and knowledge of it is required to sign Peace Corps computer acceptable use policy in order to swear in.
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Do not pack any work clothes that you hope to use after two years! After two years of your hand washing and sun-drying, the clothes will be rags, especially if you end up in a village.  Do not, however, come like some Volunteers do, thinking that looking like a pauper in the third world is the norm just because it is the Peace Corps. People do dress up regularly, and clean, ironed clothes are a must in this culture. People may have only two outfits (some of your students will have only one), but they will look like they were just store-bought even if they wear them every day in a given week.
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==Incidences==
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* Warm winter coat—full length is best, especially for women (can be purchased in Kazakhstan; black or gray recommended)
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The blogs of today are the postcards of yesterday. Both are able to be read by anyone if they are to come across them.  
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* Waterproof, lightweight jacket (black or gray recommended)
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* Three pairs of warm socks—white is impossible to keep clean and should be avoided
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* Winter gloves (extremely warm and waterproof), scarf, and hat
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* Underwear
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* One/two sets of thermal underwear (tops and bottoms—some Volunteers recommend polypropylene; others recommend silk); you will wear these under clothes for warmth and for sleeping
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* Three warm flannel shirts or sweatshirts
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* Several good sweaters and turtlenecks
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* Sturdy, well-made shoes—sandals, sports, dress and winter (good shoes are hard to come by and they’re expensive when you find them, don’t go cheap on this), including:
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* Waterproof hiking boots (there are some great mountains for hiking here). They should have good traction, be warm, and be durable. It gets very messy in the winter with a lot of ice, slush, and mud. Thick soles will help keep your feet warm.
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* Sneakers and walking shoes 
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* Outdoor sandals (Tevas and Birkenstocks are acceptable, but not for work)
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* Thongs for the shower
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* Dress shoes
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* Insulated durable professional looking water-proof boots
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* Extra shoelaces, one can of waterproofing, and a tube of good shoe glue (a real must!)
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* Bathing suit
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* Belts
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* Sunglasses
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* Baseball cap
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===For Men ===
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On the evening of October 13, 1961, Peace Corps Trainee Margery Jane Michelmore wrote a postcard to a friend in the United States about her time in Nigeria. She described her situation in Nigeria as "squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions." The postcard was never mailed. It is said that it was found on the grounds of University College at Ibadan near Marjorie’s dormitory, Queen Elizabeth Hall. The finder was a Nigerian student at the college. Copies of the postcard were made and distributed. Volunteers were immediately denounced as “agents of imperialism” and “members of America’s international spy ring.” The protest made front-page news in Nigeria and it sparked a minor international incident.<br>
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http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/pages/2000/0001/001pchist.html
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Men here dress in suits for business meetings, weddings, and work. It is appropriate to wear a shirt, tie, and pants (not jeans) to work. Sports jackets with nice pants and dress shirts are acceptable. Most local people wear the same ties daily. You probably do not need more than two to four ties. The acceptability of shorts will depend upon your site. Shorts are usually only worn here by men for sporting events or exercise. A cultural point to consider is that hair is worn short by men in Kazakhstan, and beards on younger men are rare.  
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Ms. Michelmore was forced to leave the country. President Kennedy wrote a note to Marjorie Michelmore that was hand delivered to her when she arrived in London from Nigeria. “We are strongly behind you,” he wrote, “and hope you will continue to serve in the Peace Corps.” Later Kennedy would wryly remark to departing Volunteers he met on the White House lawn, “Keep in touch . . . but not by postcard!”<br>
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http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/pages/2000/0001/001pchist2.html
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* One suit
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Peace Corps volunteers of today are still keeping in touch with the American people about their service; not by the postcards of yesterday, but by the blogs, Twitter, and Facebook groups of today.
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* One or two sport coats
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* Three ties
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* Three dress shirts (long and short sleeves—bring short sleeves even if you do not wear them in America)
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* Three pairs dress slacks (chino/khaki type but dark colors)
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* Three pairs of shorts
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* Three T-shirts/regular shirts for everyday wear
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* One pair of slacks/shorts that zip off at the knees (you cannot wear shorts to training events and if you have afternoon plans these will be a life-saver; also great if you know you will be visiting a mosque in Kazakhstan or if you go on vacation to another Muslim country like Turkey or the UAE and don’t want to wear pants all day.)
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* Two pairs of jeans (not usually acceptable for work attire)
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* Six pairs of socks, preferably not white
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===For Women ===
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There are two notable cases of volunteers having to resign because of their online blog. While there may be others these are notable in their extremes:
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Kazakhstani women are very fashion conscious. Women should wear skirts that are at least knee length. In a few communities, schools do not approve of women wearing pants in the classroom. Also, blouses and upper portions of dresses should be modest. In certain cities and towns in Kazakhstan, you will see women in mini-skirts and other scant attire.  However, you should be aware that for the Kazakhstanis, this sends a certain message about your character. Generally, Kazakhstani women wear dress boots to work in the winter and sandals in the summer.  
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The first is an early example of Peace Corps’ awareness of public blogs for which they were unprepared. Jason Pearce, a Peace Corps Trainee in Guyana in 2002, was not allowed to swear-in, mainly due to Peace Corps’ objection to his blog of which they knew about at his initial interview.
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Hair is styled in all sorts of ways, and shouldn’t be a problemLocal hair-coloring products are not up to par, and we’ve seen some interesting interpretations of henna and even blond hair coloring. Go with your natural color, or bring what you need.  
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Mr. Pearce detailed the incident on his website: “It should be noted that at the time I created my personal blog [2002], there were already several thousand websites that were created by Peace Corps volunteers for purposes of sharing their experiences with the rest of the world.
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* Dress jackets
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The Country Director at the time sent an e-mail to all volunteers serving in Guyana at the time to discuss the issue that stated:
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* Plenty of mid-length and long skirts and dresses
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* Jeans (acceptable in larger cities)
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* Dress pants
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* At least one good outfit for formal occasions
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* One or two pairs of shorts and a short skirt or two (for American social occasions)
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* Tights and leggings
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* Jewelry and makeup (both are worn here, and available)
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* Slips (cotton, lightweight)
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* Sturdy winter boots, which can be worn with skirts and dresses and dress pants
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<blockquote>“The content (photos, audio and written monologues) on the Yahoo.com peacecorps.guyana site and its links to "dozens" of already established personal web pages owned by 10 members, other Volunteers and RPCV's, which clearly identify most of the owners as being associated with the Peace Corps are potentially very harmful to the image and program efforts of Peace corps Guyana, if it became known that such information has been put in the public domain”</blockquote>
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===Clothing Colors ===
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The Country Director later stated in a memo that “Public pronouncement (putting information in the public domain) is not an acceptable action by a foreign visitor representing an international agency, specifically the Peace Corps.”
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People typically wear black and gray in winter, especially as far as jackets are concerned. Having a brightly colored jacket will make you stick out as a foreigner. It is also not a bad idea to avoid white (especially in the case of socks) because this will be the hardest to keep clean.  
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Mr. Pearce’s blog was an early case of a new way of how the world can communicate and how Peace Corps was not prepared for that advancement. He was forced to Early Terminate on August 22, 2002; eight months after the creation of his blog to share his thoughts and experiences of Guyana.
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===Toiletries===
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A detailed account of his early termination may be found on his blog:
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http://net.jasonpearce.com/peacecorps/cos/timelinejasonpearce.html
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Pert Plus, Gillette, and even Herbal Essences can easily be found at the smallest bazaars, so don’t go overboard on the toiletries unless there is some aftershave, shampoo or whatever that you can’t live without for two years.
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A second incident is detailed in the Office of Inspector General’s report: “OIG's Semiannual Report to Congress (April 1 - September 30, 2007)” listed on the Peace Corps website. <br>
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http://www.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/policies/sarc_20071128.pdf
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* One washcloth and one towel (these are available locally, but quality is often not that great)
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<blockquote>
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* Razors or electric shaver, shaving cream
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Title 18 Criminal and Other Investigations Conducted<br>
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* Shampoo and conditioner (might not be your favorite brand, but many types are available here)
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Investigations Leading to Disposition<br>
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* Nail clipper
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* Toothpaste (Crest and Colgate are available)
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* Good toothbrushes
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* Soap (if your skin is sensitive, you may want to bring a good supply)
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* Deodorant (available here)
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* Feminine hygiene products are available at all sites in Kazakhstan so there is no need to bring an extensive supply
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===Odds & Ends===
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During the previous reporting period, the OIG opened an investigation relating to a Volunteer serving in a Middle Eastern country engaging in public political statements in violation of Agency policy. A variety of Peace Corps Manual sections and Handbook procedures require Peace Corps Volunteers to maintain an apolitical posture in their country of service and refrain from becoming involved in the political affairs of their host country. Among the sentiments expressed in the Volunteer’s internet-based journal (“blog”) were political opinions about the country in which he was serving, favorable comments about groups classified by Executive Order as terrorist organizations, and comments concerning the foreign policy of a neighboring country in the region. The Volunteer’s blog was publicly available and not password protected.
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* Flashlight: very powerful and illuminating (power outages are regular which makes it a pain to shave or make posters for a lesson, so this will help tremendously)
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During this reporting period, OIG developed additional evidence that the Volunteer was provided with training regarding Agency prohibitions on political statements, including the requirement of clearing any political blog with the country director. The Volunteer acknowledged that his statements could pose a security risk to him in his country of service. The Volunteer further conceded that the portion of his blog in which he was critical of local governments could have become known to the host-country Government and undermine Peace Corps’ credibility in his host country. The Volunteer also acknowledged associating with members of his host country’s intelligence service. When representatives of the host government became aware of the Volunteer’s statements and associations, they expressed concern to the U.S. Embassy about the safety of the Volunteer and the U.S. Ambassador recommended that the Volunteer be removed from the country within 24 hours.
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* One of two sturdy water bottles (e.g., Nalgene)
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* Battery charger and at least four rechargeable batteries
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* Electricity converter kit (the voltage is 220 and is uniform across Asia. It should have a pair of parallel, round prongs)
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* A lot of good books (Note that the Peace Corps office has a library from which you can check out books)
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* Random House’s Russian: Living Language audio program
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* Copy of Lonely Planet: Central Asia
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* Lots of music 
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* Laptop (if applicable) with DVDs if you want to watch movies
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* Leatherman or Swiss Army knife
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* Office supplies
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* Two luggage locks
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* Day planner
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* Toiletries bag and initial set of toiletries
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* Digital camera (great for e-mailing photos home and you do not want to carry pictures around for two years)
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* High-quality backpack (will need to get your stuff to Kazakhstan, as well as for vacation out-of-country and when you go camping in-country; there are lots of beautiful places to go camping in the eastern and western parts of the country)
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* Hand sanitizer (important to have when eating out since many places will not have bathrooms or you wouldn’t want to use the facilities if they did. Clean hands will help you avoid sickness during pre-service training. Your body will have enough things stressing it out already.)
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* Pictures, Pictures, Pictures—People in Kazakhstan, especially your students if you are a teacher, love to see pictures of their Volunteer’s life in America. Pictures of the close major cities to you and your family to things as mundane as the local supermarket and the car you drive will all be crowd pleasers. They will also be a great icebreaker with your host families, which you will be desperate for since you will have all of two Russian lessons under your belt on the day you go to live with them.  
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* Gifts for host families
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===Summer===
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The host country agency also conducted an investigation of the Volunteer’s activity and found further evidence that he had discussed political issues with host country nationals.
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In your haste to prepare for the brutish Central Asian winter,  
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The OIG also found that the country director failed in her responsibilities to monitor and oversee the Volunteer’s blog entries and did not object to certain entries that were political in nature and violative of Agency’s rules and guidelines. During this reporting period, the Volunteer resigned in lieu of administrative separation. The country director, who had been slated to work in the Peace Corps Director’s Office, retired in lieu of this assignment.</blockquote>
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do not forget to prepare for the equally brutish Central Asian
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In relation to that incident, the OIG reported in their FY2008 Annual Plan that, for FY 2008 special projects and initiatives the OIG/IU will: “Review of Volunteer Blogs. IU will undertake a periodic review of Volunteers’ public blogs and report significant findings, as appropriate.” <br>
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http://www.peacecorpswiki.org/FOIAdocs/OIG2008FYAnnualPlan.pdf
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summer, especially in the south. It tops off at 110 F out here
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An Freedom of Information Act request was made for any such findings, of which “after a thorough and diligent search[…]The OIG holds no documents that meet your criteria.” This was stated even though one case is specifically mentioned in their own report on the public Peace Corps website.
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and AC is pretty hard to come by so have good summer stuff, too. Don’t worry about sun block or mosquito netting as both will be provided by Peace Corps.
 
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==Does an open volunteer blog jeopardize volunteer safety and security?==
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* The lack of a universal best practice guide for Peace Corps Volunteers has resulted in returned volunteers initiating websites such as www.PeaceCorpsJournals.com with FOIA documents and notices pulled from the PeaceCorps.gov website regarding the actions taken against those that violate the rules regarding the sharing of information.
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* A disclaimer is necessary on all volunteer blogs alerting any viewers that the content of the blog is that of the blogger and not Peace Corps headquarters.
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* Blogs have been widespread less than ten years, thus, little long term information exists showing how exposing information affects positive or negative change within a government agency or in regards to the relations with a host country. 
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* Lack of appropriate guidelines and guidance means that to a large extent the choice of monitoring or regularly post was done at the discretion of the individual Country Directors.
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* Initially, postings were looked on as possibly compromising the volunteer’s security and jeopardizing the political situation of Peace Corps in the county; however, as the internet has become an educational tool and a core part of much of Peace Corps programming, this attitude has relaxed.
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* Peace Corps headquarters wants to monitor the activities going on regarding volunteer blogs and online journals. A special investigative unit in Peace Corps headquarters is tasked to: “…undertake a periodic review of Volunteers’ public blogs….” http://www.peacecorpswiki.org/FOIAdocs/OIG2008FYAnnualPlan.pdf, pg 12
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* Peace Corps headquarters has full discretion over the actions they take regarding an individual volunteer’s blog posting seen in a negative light towards Peace Corps or the host country itself; there exist few rules or guidelines. Often input from the in-county staff will be justification enough for disciplinary action, or administrative separation (removal from the country of service).
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* If reasoning is necessary to justify disciplinary action, conveniently vague justifications can be given, such as the precarious nature of Peace Corps’ political situation within the host country.
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===Medical Supplies ===
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==Conclusion==
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The only medical supplies you should need are initial supplies of prescription medications—Peace Corps will provide the rest.
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Today Peace Corps Volunteer blogs are inextricably linked to the Peace Corps experience. They are one component in the new generation of tools used by volunteers in the field which promote awareness about their service as well as the projects they are involved in. Adequately preparing not only the volunteers but friends, family, and the public about the use of blogs is critical. Best practices standards need to be developed and made publicly available. Best practices will give the volunteers and the public a better idea about what is and is not appropriate on their blog thus ameliorating the ambiguous nature of volunteer blogsLike other aspects of Peace Corps programming, the standards that volunteers’ blogs are held too should reflect the goals and vision of the agency.
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===Cooking Supplies ===
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After a couple of weeks here you will miss flavors other than fat in your food. Bringing spices you like with you is an excellent idea both for yourself and for introducing yourself to locals. You will get requests to cook things from locals and also it is a nice thing to do for people who will no doubt be cooking for you repeatedly. Do not use them for a while after you arrive even though you may be tempted. A few other hints: ranch mix and barbeque sauce are always missed by Volunteers.  
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===Office Supplies ===
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Office supplies are of poor quality here and having Sharpie pens that do not run out the third time you use them, three-ringed binders/folders, and clipboards are all luxuries foreign to this land. They will also be great tools for your class if you are a secondary English teacher and the folders you will need for the copious amounts of paperwork that Peace Corps will give you during training and expect you to hold on to.  
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===Gifts for Host Families ===
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While it is not something you have to bring it is a nice thing to do and will endear you to the family. If you go visiting at
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someone’s house (which you will do a lot in the next two years), it is polite to bring a gift and this is a great way to start since you will be living with them for three months. The best gifts are often the most useful ones. The two most popular gifts I have given to date are a high-powered flashlight (due to the power outages) and a large scented candle. For many of the families, money is tight so lavish, luxury items aren’t as big a hit as they would be in the U.S. Candy or something that can be consumed the first night you are with them is also a nice icebreakerRemember, you will have two host families in Kazakhstan.
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===Saving Money ===
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Many of you have just gotten out of college and cannot afford to blow a thousand bucks at REI as some of the other people will. Things in Kazakhstan are significantly cheaper than they are in the U.S. and the people here had to survive the winters long before you decided to come here, so finding heavy-duty winter clothing here at a fraction of the price is totally feasible. However, the selection of sizes and colors may be limited. Some of the larger-sized trainees who arrived in 2006 found it very difficult to find coats that fit. They ended up having coats sent from the U.S. Additionally, the quality may not be as good. It is advisable to buy gloves, silk undergarments, and winter shoes at home and bring some sweaters and at least a jacket with you.
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===Laptops ===
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If you are thinking of buying one before you come pay the extra cash if you can for a DVD burner.  
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[[Category:Kazakhstan]]
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Latest revision as of 19:13, 16 October 2013


Peace Corps Volunteer Blogs

(An editable report)

By: Will Dickinson, Michael Sheppard, and PeaceCorpsWiki users



Contents

[edit] Introduction

Since the late 1990s, Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have been posting their experiences in Peace Corps (PC) on the internet in “web-logs”, now colloquially called “blogs”. The number of volunteer blogs has grown dramatically in just the past few years: from 1,300 in Aug 2006 to over 5,000 in Dec 2008. In today’s Peace Corps, a blog is viewed as a normal supplemental component of service and as an open newsletter for the volunteer to report about their service as it happens. The ability to publish and update information in real time facilitates the creation of new connections between the volunteers in service and those that access the blogs. This is a remarkable way to view grass roots international development across countries and regions; with extensive possibilities for information exchange that is site specific. Nevertheless, the freedom associated with this ability to publish in real-time has given rise to major issues concerning privacy and professionalism within the Peace Corps community and the countries which host Peace Corps volunteers. There are few guidelines and rules, or established precedents, regarding blog content or the method of posting and, as a result, those that have found themselves in this indeterminate area have often met with brash subjectivity.

[edit] What is a volunteer blog?


[edit] Current rules and regulations

The official policy concerning volunteer blogs is governed by the Peace Corps Manual, section MS 534.7 http://files.peacecorps.gov/manuals/manual/500_Administrative_Services/540-549_Computers_and_Information_Processing/MS_543/Use_of_IT_Systems_by_Volunteers_Trainees_RPCVs.pdf#7.0

MS 543.7 Websites: Volunteers who create their own Web sites, or post information to Web sites that have been created and maintained by others, should be reminded that, unless password protected, any information posted on the Internet can be accessed by the general public, even if that is not intended. Because search engines regularly index most sites on the Internet, it is possible that members of the public could locate a Volunteer Web site by searching for information about the Peace Corps or a certain country. This is possible even if the Volunteer does not actively promote his/her Web site. Given these realities, Volunteers are responsible for ensuring that their IT use is consistent with the following guidelines:
7.1 Notification
7.2 Disclaimer
7.3 Use of the Peace Corps Logo
7.4 Cultural Sensitivity
7.5 Safety and Security
7.6 Publication Policies

Most volunteers have access to the Internet and currently over 5,000 volunteers in the past few years have had their own personal blog publicly shared online. The volunteers are aware of the regulations and rules, as they are now taught them during Training and knowledge of it is required to sign Peace Corps computer acceptable use policy in order to swear in.

[edit] Incidences

The blogs of today are the postcards of yesterday. Both are able to be read by anyone if they are to come across them.

On the evening of October 13, 1961, Peace Corps Trainee Margery Jane Michelmore wrote a postcard to a friend in the United States about her time in Nigeria. She described her situation in Nigeria as "squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions." The postcard was never mailed. It is said that it was found on the grounds of University College at Ibadan near Marjorie’s dormitory, Queen Elizabeth Hall. The finder was a Nigerian student at the college. Copies of the postcard were made and distributed. Volunteers were immediately denounced as “agents of imperialism” and “members of America’s international spy ring.” The protest made front-page news in Nigeria and it sparked a minor international incident.
http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/pages/2000/0001/001pchist.html

Ms. Michelmore was forced to leave the country. President Kennedy wrote a note to Marjorie Michelmore that was hand delivered to her when she arrived in London from Nigeria. “We are strongly behind you,” he wrote, “and hope you will continue to serve in the Peace Corps.” Later Kennedy would wryly remark to departing Volunteers he met on the White House lawn, “Keep in touch . . . but not by postcard!”
http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/pages/2000/0001/001pchist2.html

Peace Corps volunteers of today are still keeping in touch with the American people about their service; not by the postcards of yesterday, but by the blogs, Twitter, and Facebook groups of today.

There are two notable cases of volunteers having to resign because of their online blog. While there may be others these are notable in their extremes:

The first is an early example of Peace Corps’ awareness of public blogs for which they were unprepared. Jason Pearce, a Peace Corps Trainee in Guyana in 2002, was not allowed to swear-in, mainly due to Peace Corps’ objection to his blog of which they knew about at his initial interview.

Mr. Pearce detailed the incident on his website: “It should be noted that at the time I created my personal blog [2002], there were already several thousand websites that were created by Peace Corps volunteers for purposes of sharing their experiences with the rest of the world.”

The Country Director at the time sent an e-mail to all volunteers serving in Guyana at the time to discuss the issue that stated:

“The content (photos, audio and written monologues) on the Yahoo.com peacecorps.guyana site and its links to "dozens" of already established personal web pages owned by 10 members, other Volunteers and RPCV's, which clearly identify most of the owners as being associated with the Peace Corps are potentially very harmful to the image and program efforts of Peace corps Guyana, if it became known that such information has been put in the public domain”

The Country Director later stated in a memo that “Public pronouncement (putting information in the public domain) is not an acceptable action by a foreign visitor representing an international agency, specifically the Peace Corps.”

Mr. Pearce’s blog was an early case of a new way of how the world can communicate and how Peace Corps was not prepared for that advancement. He was forced to Early Terminate on August 22, 2002; eight months after the creation of his blog to share his thoughts and experiences of Guyana.

A detailed account of his early termination may be found on his blog: http://net.jasonpearce.com/peacecorps/cos/timelinejasonpearce.html

A second incident is detailed in the Office of Inspector General’s report: “OIG's Semiannual Report to Congress (April 1 - September 30, 2007)” listed on the Peace Corps website.
http://www.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/policies/sarc_20071128.pdf

Title 18 Criminal and Other Investigations Conducted
Investigations Leading to Disposition
During the previous reporting period, the OIG opened an investigation relating to a Volunteer serving in a Middle Eastern country engaging in public political statements in violation of Agency policy. A variety of Peace Corps Manual sections and Handbook procedures require Peace Corps Volunteers to maintain an apolitical posture in their country of service and refrain from becoming involved in the political affairs of their host country. Among the sentiments expressed in the Volunteer’s internet-based journal (“blog”) were political opinions about the country in which he was serving, favorable comments about groups classified by Executive Order as terrorist organizations, and comments concerning the foreign policy of a neighboring country in the region. The Volunteer’s blog was publicly available and not password protected. During this reporting period, OIG developed additional evidence that the Volunteer was provided with training regarding Agency prohibitions on political statements, including the requirement of clearing any political blog with the country director. The Volunteer acknowledged that his statements could pose a security risk to him in his country of service. The Volunteer further conceded that the portion of his blog in which he was critical of local governments could have become known to the host-country Government and undermine Peace Corps’ credibility in his host country. The Volunteer also acknowledged associating with members of his host country’s intelligence service. When representatives of the host government became aware of the Volunteer’s statements and associations, they expressed concern to the U.S. Embassy about the safety of the Volunteer and the U.S. Ambassador recommended that the Volunteer be removed from the country within 24 hours. The host country agency also conducted an investigation of the Volunteer’s activity and found further evidence that he had discussed political issues with host country nationals. The OIG also found that the country director failed in her responsibilities to monitor and oversee the Volunteer’s blog entries and did not object to certain entries that were political in nature and violative of Agency’s rules and guidelines. During this reporting period, the Volunteer resigned in lieu of administrative separation. The country director, who had been slated to work in the Peace Corps Director’s Office, retired in lieu of this assignment.

In relation to that incident, the OIG reported in their FY2008 Annual Plan that, for FY 2008 special projects and initiatives the OIG/IU will: “Review of Volunteer Blogs. IU will undertake a periodic review of Volunteers’ public blogs and report significant findings, as appropriate.”
http://www.peacecorpswiki.org/FOIAdocs/OIG2008FYAnnualPlan.pdf

An Freedom of Information Act request was made for any such findings, of which “after a thorough and diligent search[…]The OIG holds no documents that meet your criteria.” This was stated even though one case is specifically mentioned in their own report on the public Peace Corps website.


[edit] Does an open volunteer blog jeopardize volunteer safety and security?

[edit] Conclusion

Today Peace Corps Volunteer blogs are inextricably linked to the Peace Corps experience. They are one component in the new generation of tools used by volunteers in the field which promote awareness about their service as well as the projects they are involved in. Adequately preparing not only the volunteers but friends, family, and the public about the use of blogs is critical. Best practices standards need to be developed and made publicly available. Best practices will give the volunteers and the public a better idea about what is and is not appropriate on their blog thus ameliorating the ambiguous nature of volunteer blogs. Like other aspects of Peace Corps programming, the standards that volunteers’ blogs are held too should reflect the goals and vision of the agency.

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