Difference between pages "Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Thailand" and "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati"

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In fulfilling its mandate to share the face of America with host countries, the Peace Corps is making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.
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Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Thailand, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Thailand.
 
  
Outside of Thailand’s capital and other cities, many residents have had relatively little sustained exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles, though they may have had some contact with the many tourists who visit each year.  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.
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===Communications===
  
The people of Thailand 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.
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====Mail====
  
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Thailand, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitationsThe 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.  
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Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service we consider normal in the United States. If you come here expecting U.S. standards, you will be in for a lot of frustration.  Mail can take weeks or even months to arrive in Kiribati, though mail leaving Kiribati seems to be more reliable than mail arriving in Kiribati. Some mail may simply not arrive.  Often mail is delayed because of a canceled flight or weight restrictions on international and domestic carriers. Although we do not want to sound too discouraging, communication can become a very sensitive issue when one is thousands of miles from family and friends. We think it is best to forewarn you about the reality of mail service in this part of the worldAdvise your family and friends to number their letters and to write “Airmail—via Fiji” on envelopes.  
  
===Overview of Diversity in Thailand ===
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Despite the potential delays, we strongly encourage you to write to your family regularly (perhaps weekly or biweekly) and to number your letters. Family members typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so advise them that mail is sporadic and that they shouldn’t worry if they don’t receive your letters regularly. (If a serious problem were to occur, Peace Corps/Kiribati would notify the Peace Corps Office of Special Services in Washington, D.C., which would contact your family.)
  
Although the majority of Thailand’s population is both Buddhist and ethnically and linguistically Thai, there are regional linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic differences. The presence of many non-Thai groups also contributes to the diversity of the country. Thais generally emphasize their commonalities and the strengths that diversity contributes to their country. When differences are expressed, it is generally in subtle ways that require linguistic and cultural understanding to grasp. Thais’ emphasis on tolerance, maintaining smooth relationships, and a sense of order creates a generally welcome environment for Volunteers.  
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Airmail packages sometimes take weeks to arrive and occasionally don’t arrive at all. Surface mail takes anywhere from four months to one year or longer. Packing items in plastic containers, aluminum foil, or sturdy plastic bags is prudent because of rats, ants, heat, and humidity. You are responsible for paying any customs charges for personal items.  
  
Despite the ideal of social harmony, there are some conflicts, which are readily apparent in the tabloid press. Thailand’s social structure includes an inherent hierarchy, with competing beliefs about who is entitled to what. Thais often attempt to hide conflict from guests, something you may experience with your colleagues. Nevertheless, Thais manage to find extraordinarily beautiful ways to maintain harmony in the face of diversity, many of which you will no doubt find intriguing.  
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Past Volunteers have enjoyed receiving candy, dried fruit, homemade cookies packed in tins, spices, canned potato chips, anything dehydrated, nuts, small packages of condiments and other foods (soup mix, powdered eggs, and macaroni and cheese), books, tapes, batteries, balloons, trinkets for kids, card games, newspapers, comic books, magazines, beach toys, photos, personal voice recordings, hair-care products, underwear, film, clothing, teacher stickers for students’ work, good pens, and fish recipes.  
  
The Peace Corps staff in Thailand recognizes the adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.  
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It is difficult to receive packages sent via airmail from the U.S.  directly on the outer islands. To increase the likelihood of getting through, packages should be in large envelopes (NOT BOXES) and weigh no more than two pounds. Otherwise, the package will be held up in South Tarawa. Larger boxes can be forwarded to your island from Tarawa, but you will be responsible for the additional costs incurred.  
  
===What Might a Volunteer Face? ===
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Your mailing address during pre-service training will be the main Peace Corps Office mailbox:
  
Thai hospitality is legendary. You are unlikely to experience direct confrontation if you practice the basic do’s and don’ts introduced in pre-service training and balance your needs with those of your Thai co-workers and community members.  Of course, the Peace Corps cannot control every host country national’s treatment of you, nor would you want such intrusion. You should be able to handle most situations on your own. Some Volunteers may experience blatant bigotry, but subtle discrimination is more common. Part of your role as a Volunteer is to promote, through your actions and behavior, a more thorough understanding of the United States and Americans among the people in your community.
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“Your Name,” PCT
  
Thai people are very direct in regards to physical appearance in a manner that may be considered rude by American standards. Volunteers should expect to hear comments about their height, weight, hair, etc.
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PO Box 260
  
The following information is provided to help you prepare for challenges you may encounter in Thailand based on your gender, ethnic or racial background, age, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or disabilities.
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Bikenibeu, Tarawa
  
====Possible Issues for Female Volunteers ====
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Republic of Kiribati, Central Pacific
  
In recent years, the proportion of female Volunteers in Thailand has reached close to 75 percent, including those who are married. Most female Volunteers experience a high degree of security in their communities and when they travel within the country. Physical harassment is not common, but precautions still need to be taken. The higher status of men compared with women can manifest in both subtle and not-sosubtle ways. For example, women are often expected to take on more work than men are, and they often do so. This can be frustrating for both female and male Volunteers. Additionally, young females may face an uphill battle to gain the respect of their male Thai counterparts as age and experience is often valued over youth and enthusiasm—especially for women.
 
  
====Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color ====
 
  
Many Thais are not well-informed about the ethnic and racial diversity of the United States, and they therefore expect Volunteers to be Caucasian. In addition, many Thais view lighter skin as more beautiful, a perception based more on an aesthetic bias than any racial prejudice and one that existed long before encounters between Thailand and the West. African-American Volunteers, in particular, should not take Thais’ views of skin color personally and should try to see them within this context. In addition, people in villages may have a difficult time seeing some people of color as Americans.  
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Mail can be sent to you at this address during your entire two years of service. However, once you have a site placement, you will have a local address on your island and it is generally better to have your mail sent directly to you there rather than depend on the Peace Corps/Kiribati office to forward it.  
  
Unfortunately, in recent years, heroin smugglers have used West-African nationals to smuggle drugs out of Thailand, which has led to a belief among some Thais that American blacks are Africans who smuggle drugs. Fortunately, professional and personal relationships between African-American Volunteers and their Thai counterparts have broken down these stereotypes.
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====Telephones====
  
It is common for Asian Americans to be mistaken for Thais, which can have both benefits and drawbacks. One advantage is that Asian Americans blend better into the community and thus may not receive as much unwanted attention in public. A disadvantage is that Thais may initially expect you to have the language skills of a native speaker. Thai friends told one Asian-American Volunteer that they were disappointed they did not get a “real American” as they had requested. This Volunteer also felt that her Thai co-workers initially valued her less than they valued Caucasian Volunteers because they thought an Asian American was not very different from a Thai.  But once people know you are not Thai, you are likely receive the same celebrity treatment that most foreigners receive in Thailand.  
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Local and overseas telephone, fax, and e-mail services are available on the capital island of South Tarawa. Public phones in South Tarawa operate only with a locally purchased phone card. All of the outer islands have some form of electronic communication with South Tarawa, but it varies widely from place to place and is not always easily accessible to Volunteers. The government is expanding phone service to the outer islands and has completed the installation on at least five of them, but it will take some time before all of the islands have this service.  
  
If you are an Asian American, Thais may ask you about your ethnic origin, wanting to know the country of your ancestors. Thailand is home to many Asian minority groups related to contemporary Chinese, Burmese, Khmer, and Lao peoples, many of whom lived in the area before there was a distinct country known as Siam (later Thailand). The small Vietnamese population arrived primarily in the 1950s, and most have remained in the northeastern Thai towns and cities where they took refuge.  
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The government maintains a CB radio-telephone link with each island, located at the government council station. Volunteers can place calls to the Peace Corps office or other locations in South Tarawa by CB radio-telephone at certain times of the day, but these calls are not private. The police station and the health clinic on each island have CB (shortwave) radios, which can be used by Volunteers in an emergency. There are also private or church-owned CB radios on many islands that will be made available for emergency communication if needed. The Peace Corps provides satellite telephones on the most isolated islands for Volunteers. Not every Volunteer has one, but most islands do. These phones can only be used for official communication. In many places on the outer islands, it is not possible to call the United States. However, in an emergency, Volunteers may be authorized to travel to South Tarawa to communicate with family members.  
  
====Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers ====
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====Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access====
  
Thai government workers are subject to a mandatory retirement age of 60 (with exceptions for some with specialized skills), so Volunteers over 60 will have Thai coworkers who are younger than they are. Thais give great respect and importance to senior family members, and senior Volunteers often receive similar deference and respect, though this does not necessarily translate to greater respect for their professional competence or technical knowledge.  Your co-workers may smile, nod, and appear to agree with you when the opposite is true, perhaps because they do not want to offend you.  
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Internet services became available in Tarawa in 1998. The Peace Corps office has two computers with reliable Internet access available for Volunteer use.  
  
Although more seniors are joining the Peace Corps nowadays, most of your fellow trainees are likely to be under age 30, and the Thai training staff is largely composed of recent college graduates. Generally, seniors are warmly accepted by other trainees; still, there may be times when you miss interacting with people of your own age, especially in social situations.  
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The few Volunteers assigned to Tarawa can make use of a personal computer and may want to bring a laptop computer.  Volunteers stationed on the outer islands will need an alternate power source (e.g., solar panels) as the outer islands generally do not have electricity. For this reason, and since you will not know your island of assignment before you arrive, we don’t recommend that Volunteers bring laptop computers.  
  
The Thai language trainers recognize the different learning styles and needs of seniors and will endeavor to provide the most suitable training for older trainees.
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===Housing and Site Location===
  
====Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers ====
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All Volunteers in Kiribati are required to live with a host family during training. Volunteers are also assigned a host family, with whom they will live for the entire two years of service. This includes Volunteers living in South Tarawa.  Understandably, many Volunteers have difficulty adjusting to this because it means giving up the independent living to which they are accustomed. Household rules, especially for women, are likely to be completely different and feel very restrictive compared to life in the United States. Yet, in most instances, the rewards are great. Living with a family makes it easier to learn the language, offers a much greater understanding of the culture, and ensures a safer and more secure environment for the Volunteer. Much of a Volunteer’s life in Kiribati will be based on interactions with his or her host family, which provide an entrance into the community.
  
Thais do not usually view bisexuality and homosexuality as sinful or unnatural, nor are there criminal penalties against sexual acts between members of the same sex. However, some bisexual and homosexual Volunteers have found it necessary to adjust their behavior to be effective in their jobs and respected by members of their communities. Most choose to remain “in the closet” to Thai friends and co-workers at their sites.  
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Volunteers in Kiribati are placed on all of the islands in the Gilbert group. The greatest need is on the outer islands, and that is where almost all Volunteers are assigned. Most of the houses on the outer islands are made from local materials.  
  
Physical contact in public between members of the same sex (such as linking arms while walking down the street) is a common way for Thais to show affection, and it is important for Volunteers to realize that such displays of affection likely are nonsexual in nature. Volunteers who are accustomed to being part of a large gay community in the United States may not get the support to which they are accustomed. However, gay communities do exist in urban centers such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and you will probably find significant support within the Peace Corps community.  
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Houses have stick walls supported by larger posts in the ground and a thatched roof. Windows have no glass and are cut from sticks. There is usually a socializing buia (a raised platform) next to the house. All houses also have a roki (bathroom), which is either inside the house or nearby. The roki will have a water-sealed pit latrine. Bathing consists of dipping a cup in a bucket and pouring it over you. Clothes are washed by hand in buckets. Water is drawn from a nearby well. Volunteers sleep under mosquito nets. Peace Corps/ Kiribati provides heavy-duty wire fencing (referred to as security wire) to be installed in the Volunteers’ housing.  
  
All women will have to deal with questions or teasing about boyfriends, marriage, and sex. All men will have to deal with questions about American women and girl watching and may be pressured by co-workers to visit brothels. During pre-service training, trainees are encouraged to think through these issues and plan possible responses.
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===Living Allowance and Money Management===
  
====Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers ====
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The local currency is the Australian dollar (AUD). The current exchange rate is approximately $1.12 AUD to the U.S. dollar.  As a trainee, you will receive a walk-around allowance in the local currency that will be just enough money to buy some stamps, a snack, and an occasional soft drink. Your host family will provide all of your meals. Once you are sworn-in as a Volunteer, you will receive a modest monthly living allowance paid in the local currency. Included in this is the equivalency of $24 (USD) for two days’ leave. Volunteers accrue two days of annual leave for each month of active service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Since the amount of the leave allowance is legally fixed in U.S. dollars, it must be adjusted monthly to reflect any changes in the exchange rate; therefore, the exact amount may vary slightly.
  
A high degree of religious tolerance exists in Thailand. It is doubtful that any religious issues will arise, unless one breaks the Peace Corps’ prohibition against proselytizing by Volunteers.  
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Directly after you are sworn-in, you will receive a settling-in allowance to purchase household items such as pots, pans, and a stove.  
  
====Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities ====
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Traveler’s checks and U.S. dollars may be exchanged for local currency at the Bank of Kiribati or at a hotel on South Tarawa.
  
Thais’ respect for others extends to individuals with disabilities, and the country has made efforts to help disabled individuals have productive jobs and lives. One example is the tradition of blind masseuses and masseurs in ThailandIn addition, schools are beginning to mainstream those with disabilities into regular classrooms.  
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(The bank offers a better rate for converting traveler’s checks than U.S. currency.) There is no restriction on importing currency into Kiribati via traveler’s checks, foreign bank notes, or other instruments. There are several branches of the bank and three operating ATMs in the country where access to local and U.S. bank accounts is possible. These are all located on South Tarawa. As the ATM machines are sometimes down, the bank can also process cash advances on credit cards and debit cardsTrainees and Volunteers may not accept payment for any services or work done other than the allowances received from the Peace Corps. They may not engage in any activity for personal financial gain, and they may not receive payment for photographs or writing while serving in the Peace Corps.
  
Volunteers with disabilities need to be aware of the rigors of the Peace Corps/Thailand program during both training and service. Trainees and Volunteers are expected to arrange their own transportation to the various training venues and workplaces. Any special accommodations needed during training and when at one’s site, such as an alternative to travel by bicycle, should be made known during the placement process in the United States, prior to arrival in Thailand.
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===Food and Diet===
  
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The diet in Kiribati consists mainly of locally available products (fish, coconut, breadfruit, chicken, pork, and occasionally eggs) and imported rice. Most Volunteers have a diet that is very high in carbohydrates and quite repetitive.  On the outer islands, other imported foods are available, such as corned beef, curried chicken, limited canned vegetables, cheap cookies, and basics such as flour, sugar, and rice.  The closer the outer island is to Tarawa, the more variety is typically found in the stores. In Tarawa there are a number of stores with imports from Australia, U.S., Fiji, and Indonesia.  These items tend to be very expensive, sometimes three or four times what they might cost in the U.S., but most Volunteers are willing to spend a little extra money for some specialty items. Since eating in Kiribati is a significant social activity and a vehicle to personal relations, you may find it necessary to demonstrate your friendliness and willingness to accept local customs by eating food that you would prefer not to eat. It is often difficult to refuse food in Kiribati without offending your hosts. They will watch you eat and wait for you to announce that the food is delicious.
  
[[Category:Thailand]]
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Kiribati is not an easy place for vegetarians. Local dishes are often filled with fish, pork, or chicken. Many dishes are prepared with canned meat. Most vegetarians who come to Kiribati add some fish to their diet, and some eat chicken. Finding other sources of protein is often difficult or expensive.  However, some vegetarian Volunteers have managed to find food to their liking and have taught their communities about their eating habits. This helps alleviate awkward situations when someone offers food that you do not eat. During food shortages on the islands resulting from drought or waiting for the next boat to arrive, the choices for vegetarians are even more limited.
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===Transportation===
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Transportation in developing countries is not the same as in the U.S. International flights to Kiribati and domestic flights to the outer islands are subject to frequent delays and cancellations. As of January 2007, Air Pacific flies twice a week from/to Fiji. Our Airlines also flies from Brisbane to Majuro and back twice a week, stopping in Tarawa to collect passengers for Majuro on the way up and for the Solomon Islands and Brisbane on the way down. Air Kiribati is the national airline and has at least one scheduled flight a week to each of the Gilbert Islands. At the time of this writing, there is only one Air Kiribati plane in operation and often this plane is down for service or unable to fly due to poor weather. It is hoped that Air Kiribati will have another plane in operation soon.
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On Tarawa, minibuses provide transportation from one end of the island to the other for a fare that varies from 55 cents to $1.40 (AUD) depending on the length of the ride. On the outer islands, trucks can be hired for groups or for longer distances. Most Volunteers purchase a bicycle in Tarawa, which is shipped to their outer island. The Peace Corps will provide each Volunteer with a safety helmet. Though there are a number of boats that service the islands, Volunteers rarely travel by boat any more. For safety reasons, Volunteers are only permitted to travel between islands on vessels of the Kiribati Shipping Line or the SuperCat (a large catamaran).  Volunteers must have advance authorization from the country director to travel by sea and must always bring a life vest (provided by Peace Corps).
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Air transportation costs for official purposes, such as scheduled in-service trainings, during your two years of service are calculated based on your site and included in your living allowance. Approved travel costs for medical purposes or other unforeseen official travel will be reimbursed separately.
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===Geography and Climate===
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The Republic of Kiribati is one of the smallest countries in the world. It is composed of 33 atolls scattered over more than 2 million square miles of ocean, yet its total land area is only 264 square miles. Kiribati is located in the central Pacific, near the point at which the international dateline intersects the equator. The islands are in three main groups: the Gilbert, Phoenix, and Line Islands and Banaba Island.
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Kiribati is tropical, with an average daytime temperature of 91 degrees Fahrenheit that varies little from season to season.  Rainfall varies greatly, ranging from 40 inches yearly near the equator to 120 inches in the extreme north and south. Banaba Island, the central and southern Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands, and Kiritimati Island are also subject to severe droughts that may last many months.
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===Social Activities===
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Just about any social gathering in Kiribati is called a botaki. These range from having a few friends over for dinner to a week-long island-wide festival. The average botaki is held in a mwaneaba (meeting house) where people sit in a large circle around the floor. The older men and guests usually sit in front with the women and children sitting around the edge of the mwaneaba behind the men. Almost always, speeches are given, some prayers are said, and large amounts of food are eaten. Groups of people also stand up and sing songs. Often, Volunteers are asked to sing as a group. If there is a generator or other power source available, loud music is played and people are invited to dance in the middle of the mwaneaba.  If you are asked to dance, it is typically considered an insult if you decline. Botakis are held for a variety of reasons, including a first or 21st birthday, first menstruation, engagement, wedding, anniversaries of buildings or people’s arrival on the island, and any holiday. The biggest national holiday is in July when Kiribati celebrates its independence from Britain. This is a week-long national holiday. Other holidays include International Women’s Day, Easter, National Youth Day, Human Rights Day, National Health Day, Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year’s.
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You will not have much privacy in Kiribati. Because you are new and different, people will constantly be curious about what you are doing. Often a neighbor or child will just stop by your house to say hello or to watch you. This is not viewed as offensive in Kiribati culture; people are curious and often want to get to know you better. Through training and time, you will learn how to deal with social interactions and still keep some time for yourself, although this is not always easy to do.
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Friendships and relationships are viewed differently in Kiribati than in the United States. Men and women who are not married are never supposed to be alone together and do not display affection in public. You will be required to observe these cultural norms. It is very unusual for anyone to live alone outside of a family group. This is another reason that Volunteers are assigned to live with families.
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===Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior ===
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There are different standards of professionalism on Tarawa and on the outer islands, but they are still not the standards you are probably used to at home. One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity.  In time, you will realize you are an I-Matang (all foreigners are from Matang, the mythical land where the sun sets); you are no longer just an American nor are you an I-Kiribati. You are something different, something new, made up of elements of both cultures plus your own psyche.
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You will be working as a representative of a government ministry and you will be expected to dress and behave accordingly. While some of your counterparts may dress in worn or shabby clothes, it is probably a result of economics rather than choice. The likelihood is that they are wearing their “best.” A foreigner wearing ragged, unmended clothing is likely to be considered rude and ill-mannered.
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===Personal Safety ===
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More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Kiribati is generally a country with a very low crime rate compared to most other countries in the world.  But alcohol changes the behavior and the rules in many ways.
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Some I-Kiribati will drink to excess rather than in moderation.
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Because alcohol consumption can be a significant factor affecting individual safety, Volunteers need to be cautious of others who are inebriated and aware of their own behavior.
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Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Kiribati Volunteers complete their two years of service without major personal security incidents.  The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce their risks and enhance their safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Kiribati. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your own safety and well-being. Women should never travel alone after dark in the outer islands—even walking from one village to another or to your school. Women should also not go biking or jogging by themselves in isolated areas, and should never go walking in the bush alone.
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==Rewards and Frustrations===
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One of the few predictions one can safely make about being a Peace Corps Volunteer is that it will never be entirely predictable. You can learn from the experience of former Volunteers, but there are certain to be times when you are confronted by situations that are completely new and wholly your own. How can you prepare yourself for this? There are no easy tricks for dealing with the unexpected, but we can tell you something about the kinds of situations you are likely to encounter and how other Volunteers have handled them.  Psychologists have shown that people do better in unfamiliar situations if they prepare themselves by imagining how they will feel and starting to adapt to the probable tensions and frustrations.
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Cultural adaptation is one of the most important aspects of your service. Here are some characteristics that are critical for adapting to a new culture.
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A good sense of humor. A sense of humor is important because there will be much to cry or get angry, annoyed, embarrassed, or discouraged about, and the ability to laugh about things will be your ultimate weapon against despair.
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Lowered expectations. Americans abroad too often undertake tasks that are unrealistic. If you set your goals too high and refuse to adjust them to the realities of what can actually be accomplished in a foreign environment, you are going to be disappointed. Experience shows that Americans who are less goal-oriented or task-driven, and more able to relax and ride with events, tend to be more effective and enjoy themselves more overseas.
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The ability to fail. The ability to tolerate failure is critical because everyone fails at something overseas. Ironically, however, those most likely to be selected to go overseas are those who have been most successful at home. Some people sent abroad will have never before experienced failure. If you have little tolerance for failure, you will be in trouble, as will those who work or live with you.
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Patience, flexibility, and self-reliance. Although the Peace Corps staff will work hard to support you in your service, resolving the many challenges you will face will often depend on your own ability, determination, and strength of commitment to Peace Corps service.
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If you have all or most of these characteristics, you are likely to do well. However, there will be other adjustments for you to make. People who thrive on an urban lifestyle of restaurants, bars, plays, movies, concerts, and shopping will likely find the calm and quiet of Kiribati life somewhat difficult.
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The pre-service training staff, composed of I-Kiribati language and cultural instructors and some American staff, will give you a detailed picture of what to expect once you move to your permanent assignment. You will also meet former and current Volunteers who have worked in both the education and health projects in Kiribati. Following are some of the issues that may arise once you have settled in.
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Isolation. The name “Peace Corps” is somewhat misleading. It implies a coherent company of Americans who work together when, in fact, most Volunteers work with citizens of the host country rather than other Volunteers. A Volunteer’s work is often solitary, without the support one gets from working with people who share a common background. There will be times when you will feel very much alone, especially in contrast with the intense togetherness of most training programs.
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Constant scrutiny. Paradoxically, although you will often feel alone, you might also feel that you are never alone—that you are always under scrutiny, and that there is never a moment when you are not representing the “image” of the Peace Corps. In the United States, we work at a job, and then we go home and take off our shoes and relax. But from the moment you begin Peace Corps training, it may seem as if you live in a fishbowl. Even those who initially find this exhilarating eventually can find it irritating and burdensome.
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Privacy vs. intimacy. While some Volunteers live in the same village as other Volunteers, all Volunteers are assigned a Kiribati host family. Such an arrangement has the advantages of companionship and support, but it also places you in intense relationships with people not entirely of your own choosing. You may have had a similar experience with a college roommate, but then you were able to get away from each other for periods of time. This will not be possible in Kiribati, and the enforced intimacy, even with a compatible colleague, could wear on both of you.
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Homesickness. If you have formed warm attachments to other people, you may react to separation from family and friends by becoming sad and lonely. This feeling is not unique to the Peace Corps. One may have gotten homesick after going away to college or joining the military. And because you are so far away, any trouble at home—such as the illness of a parent or the dissolution of a romance—can become magnified and distorted. Sometimes the opposite occurs. Disturbing news from home may be minimized as a Volunteer attributes feelings of tension to problems in the immediate environment, when the real source of the distress is thousands of miles away.
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Unfamiliar customs. Ideally, meals are a time of relaxation, but in a new country they may be a perpetually unsettling challenge. The available food may not only be strange in type and appearance but it may be unpalatable. Yet since eating is a significant social function and a vehicle to personal relations, you may feel obligated to demonstrate your friendliness and willingness to accept local customs by eating food that you don’t want. What you decide in each case will be the result of balancing several factors—the requirement for courtesy, the limits of your own tolerance for new foods, and realistic concerns for your health.
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Procedures for washing, sleeping, and elimination may also differ dramatically from what you are used to. Sexual customs and accepted dress may appear excessively strict in some respects or embarrassingly free in others. You might find your tolerance of noise and dirt different from what you imagined it to be.
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In all these aspects of daily life, you may feel yourself pulled in opposite directions between your accustomed life and that of your hosts. At times, your life may seem to consist of a series of minor nagging frustrations. Such frustrations can accumulate, and you might finish a long day of hard work feeling exhilarated and happy and yet be inexplicably exasperated because you don’t have a paper napkin to wipe your mouth.
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Culture shock. Your initial reaction to Kiribati is likely to be one of delight and curiosity, similar to how a tourist would react. But working in a foreign country is another matter. The differences that strike you as fascinating at first will become commonplace and invisible, and you might become aware of more profound differences between you and the people with whom you work. For example, when talking to an I-Kiribati in English or the local tongue, you might suddenly realize that although you are using the same language, you do not understand each other. Words like “democratic” or “clean” or “soon” may have different meanings for each of you. You might be mystified to find that local people who consider themselves democratic and who talk with sincerity about their struggle for freedom and independence can, at the same time, treat subordinates, women, children, or other people in what strikes you as a harshly authoritarian manner.
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Such a breakdown in communication may be heightened by misperceptions you and your host may have of each other.  You may feel that the host is not talking to you but to a fantasy of what Americans are like. Similarly, you may be addressing a preconceived image of your host derived from cross-cultural area studies. In either case, the result is a failure to understand each other and a consequent sense of frustration.
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At times it is difficult to remember that all people have a common humanity, and that merely knowing a person’s nationality does not tell you whether the person is skillful or inept, constant or mercurial, honest or dishonest, industrious or lazy. There is a temptation to fall back on glib cultural stereotypes, but much of the success or failure of a Volunteer’s work depends on his or her ability to understand the language and culture sufficiently well to make an accurate assessment of individuals. It is not an exaggeration to state that every successful Peace Corps project begins by identifying a particular host country national who is competent, reliable, understanding, and dedicated. A deep conviction that you share a common humanity with your host that transcends any cultural differences will be a big help.
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[[Category:Kiribati]]

Revision as of 01:39, 31 August 2010



Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in [[{{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |8}}]]
As a Peace Corps Volunteers, you will have to adapt to conditions that may be dramatically different than you have ever experienced and modify lifestyle practices that you now take for granted. Even the most basic practices— talking, eating, using the bathroom, and sleeping — may take significantly different forms in the context of the host country. If you successfully adapt and integrate, you will in return be rewarded with a deep understanding of a new culture, the establishment of new and potentially lifelong relationships, and a profound sense of humanity.
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  • [[Training in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |8}}]]
  • [[Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |8}}]]
  • [[Health care and safety in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |8}}]]
  • [[Diversity and cross-cultural issues in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |8}}]]
  • [[FAQs about Peace Corps in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |8}}]]
  • [[History of the Peace Corps in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |8}}]]
See also:

Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyles by Country Pre-Departure Checklist
Staging Timeline

For information see Welcomebooks

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[[Category:{{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Kiribati| |8}}]]


Communications

Mail

Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service we consider normal in the United States. If you come here expecting U.S. standards, you will be in for a lot of frustration. Mail can take weeks or even months to arrive in Kiribati, though mail leaving Kiribati seems to be more reliable than mail arriving in Kiribati. Some mail may simply not arrive. Often mail is delayed because of a canceled flight or weight restrictions on international and domestic carriers. Although we do not want to sound too discouraging, communication can become a very sensitive issue when one is thousands of miles from family and friends. We think it is best to forewarn you about the reality of mail service in this part of the world. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to write “Airmail—via Fiji” on envelopes.

Despite the potential delays, we strongly encourage you to write to your family regularly (perhaps weekly or biweekly) and to number your letters. Family members typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so advise them that mail is sporadic and that they shouldn’t worry if they don’t receive your letters regularly. (If a serious problem were to occur, Peace Corps/Kiribati would notify the Peace Corps Office of Special Services in Washington, D.C., which would contact your family.)

Airmail packages sometimes take weeks to arrive and occasionally don’t arrive at all. Surface mail takes anywhere from four months to one year or longer. Packing items in plastic containers, aluminum foil, or sturdy plastic bags is prudent because of rats, ants, heat, and humidity. You are responsible for paying any customs charges for personal items.

Past Volunteers have enjoyed receiving candy, dried fruit, homemade cookies packed in tins, spices, canned potato chips, anything dehydrated, nuts, small packages of condiments and other foods (soup mix, powdered eggs, and macaroni and cheese), books, tapes, batteries, balloons, trinkets for kids, card games, newspapers, comic books, magazines, beach toys, photos, personal voice recordings, hair-care products, underwear, film, clothing, teacher stickers for students’ work, good pens, and fish recipes.

It is difficult to receive packages sent via airmail from the U.S. directly on the outer islands. To increase the likelihood of getting through, packages should be in large envelopes (NOT BOXES) and weigh no more than two pounds. Otherwise, the package will be held up in South Tarawa. Larger boxes can be forwarded to your island from Tarawa, but you will be responsible for the additional costs incurred.

Your mailing address during pre-service training will be the main Peace Corps Office mailbox:

“Your Name,” PCT

PO Box 260

Bikenibeu, Tarawa

Republic of Kiribati, Central Pacific


Mail can be sent to you at this address during your entire two years of service. However, once you have a site placement, you will have a local address on your island and it is generally better to have your mail sent directly to you there rather than depend on the Peace Corps/Kiribati office to forward it.

Telephones

Local and overseas telephone, fax, and e-mail services are available on the capital island of South Tarawa. Public phones in South Tarawa operate only with a locally purchased phone card. All of the outer islands have some form of electronic communication with South Tarawa, but it varies widely from place to place and is not always easily accessible to Volunteers. The government is expanding phone service to the outer islands and has completed the installation on at least five of them, but it will take some time before all of the islands have this service.

The government maintains a CB radio-telephone link with each island, located at the government council station. Volunteers can place calls to the Peace Corps office or other locations in South Tarawa by CB radio-telephone at certain times of the day, but these calls are not private. The police station and the health clinic on each island have CB (shortwave) radios, which can be used by Volunteers in an emergency. There are also private or church-owned CB radios on many islands that will be made available for emergency communication if needed. The Peace Corps provides satellite telephones on the most isolated islands for Volunteers. Not every Volunteer has one, but most islands do. These phones can only be used for official communication. In many places on the outer islands, it is not possible to call the United States. However, in an emergency, Volunteers may be authorized to travel to South Tarawa to communicate with family members.

Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access

Internet services became available in Tarawa in 1998. The Peace Corps office has two computers with reliable Internet access available for Volunteer use.

The few Volunteers assigned to Tarawa can make use of a personal computer and may want to bring a laptop computer. Volunteers stationed on the outer islands will need an alternate power source (e.g., solar panels) as the outer islands generally do not have electricity. For this reason, and since you will not know your island of assignment before you arrive, we don’t recommend that Volunteers bring laptop computers.

Housing and Site Location

All Volunteers in Kiribati are required to live with a host family during training. Volunteers are also assigned a host family, with whom they will live for the entire two years of service. This includes Volunteers living in South Tarawa. Understandably, many Volunteers have difficulty adjusting to this because it means giving up the independent living to which they are accustomed. Household rules, especially for women, are likely to be completely different and feel very restrictive compared to life in the United States. Yet, in most instances, the rewards are great. Living with a family makes it easier to learn the language, offers a much greater understanding of the culture, and ensures a safer and more secure environment for the Volunteer. Much of a Volunteer’s life in Kiribati will be based on interactions with his or her host family, which provide an entrance into the community.

Volunteers in Kiribati are placed on all of the islands in the Gilbert group. The greatest need is on the outer islands, and that is where almost all Volunteers are assigned. Most of the houses on the outer islands are made from local materials.

Houses have stick walls supported by larger posts in the ground and a thatched roof. Windows have no glass and are cut from sticks. There is usually a socializing buia (a raised platform) next to the house. All houses also have a roki (bathroom), which is either inside the house or nearby. The roki will have a water-sealed pit latrine. Bathing consists of dipping a cup in a bucket and pouring it over you. Clothes are washed by hand in buckets. Water is drawn from a nearby well. Volunteers sleep under mosquito nets. Peace Corps/ Kiribati provides heavy-duty wire fencing (referred to as security wire) to be installed in the Volunteers’ housing.

Living Allowance and Money Management

The local currency is the Australian dollar (AUD). The current exchange rate is approximately $1.12 AUD to the U.S. dollar. As a trainee, you will receive a walk-around allowance in the local currency that will be just enough money to buy some stamps, a snack, and an occasional soft drink. Your host family will provide all of your meals. Once you are sworn-in as a Volunteer, you will receive a modest monthly living allowance paid in the local currency. Included in this is the equivalency of $24 (USD) for two days’ leave. Volunteers accrue two days of annual leave for each month of active service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Since the amount of the leave allowance is legally fixed in U.S. dollars, it must be adjusted monthly to reflect any changes in the exchange rate; therefore, the exact amount may vary slightly.

Directly after you are sworn-in, you will receive a settling-in allowance to purchase household items such as pots, pans, and a stove.

Traveler’s checks and U.S. dollars may be exchanged for local currency at the Bank of Kiribati or at a hotel on South Tarawa.

(The bank offers a better rate for converting traveler’s checks than U.S. currency.) There is no restriction on importing currency into Kiribati via traveler’s checks, foreign bank notes, or other instruments. There are several branches of the bank and three operating ATMs in the country where access to local and U.S. bank accounts is possible. These are all located on South Tarawa. As the ATM machines are sometimes down, the bank can also process cash advances on credit cards and debit cards. Trainees and Volunteers may not accept payment for any services or work done other than the allowances received from the Peace Corps. They may not engage in any activity for personal financial gain, and they may not receive payment for photographs or writing while serving in the Peace Corps.

Food and Diet

The diet in Kiribati consists mainly of locally available products (fish, coconut, breadfruit, chicken, pork, and occasionally eggs) and imported rice. Most Volunteers have a diet that is very high in carbohydrates and quite repetitive. On the outer islands, other imported foods are available, such as corned beef, curried chicken, limited canned vegetables, cheap cookies, and basics such as flour, sugar, and rice. The closer the outer island is to Tarawa, the more variety is typically found in the stores. In Tarawa there are a number of stores with imports from Australia, U.S., Fiji, and Indonesia. These items tend to be very expensive, sometimes three or four times what they might cost in the U.S., but most Volunteers are willing to spend a little extra money for some specialty items. Since eating in Kiribati is a significant social activity and a vehicle to personal relations, you may find it necessary to demonstrate your friendliness and willingness to accept local customs by eating food that you would prefer not to eat. It is often difficult to refuse food in Kiribati without offending your hosts. They will watch you eat and wait for you to announce that the food is delicious.

Kiribati is not an easy place for vegetarians. Local dishes are often filled with fish, pork, or chicken. Many dishes are prepared with canned meat. Most vegetarians who come to Kiribati add some fish to their diet, and some eat chicken. Finding other sources of protein is often difficult or expensive. However, some vegetarian Volunteers have managed to find food to their liking and have taught their communities about their eating habits. This helps alleviate awkward situations when someone offers food that you do not eat. During food shortages on the islands resulting from drought or waiting for the next boat to arrive, the choices for vegetarians are even more limited.

Transportation

Transportation in developing countries is not the same as in the U.S. International flights to Kiribati and domestic flights to the outer islands are subject to frequent delays and cancellations. As of January 2007, Air Pacific flies twice a week from/to Fiji. Our Airlines also flies from Brisbane to Majuro and back twice a week, stopping in Tarawa to collect passengers for Majuro on the way up and for the Solomon Islands and Brisbane on the way down. Air Kiribati is the national airline and has at least one scheduled flight a week to each of the Gilbert Islands. At the time of this writing, there is only one Air Kiribati plane in operation and often this plane is down for service or unable to fly due to poor weather. It is hoped that Air Kiribati will have another plane in operation soon.

On Tarawa, minibuses provide transportation from one end of the island to the other for a fare that varies from 55 cents to $1.40 (AUD) depending on the length of the ride. On the outer islands, trucks can be hired for groups or for longer distances. Most Volunteers purchase a bicycle in Tarawa, which is shipped to their outer island. The Peace Corps will provide each Volunteer with a safety helmet. Though there are a number of boats that service the islands, Volunteers rarely travel by boat any more. For safety reasons, Volunteers are only permitted to travel between islands on vessels of the Kiribati Shipping Line or the SuperCat (a large catamaran). Volunteers must have advance authorization from the country director to travel by sea and must always bring a life vest (provided by Peace Corps).

Air transportation costs for official purposes, such as scheduled in-service trainings, during your two years of service are calculated based on your site and included in your living allowance. Approved travel costs for medical purposes or other unforeseen official travel will be reimbursed separately.

Geography and Climate

The Republic of Kiribati is one of the smallest countries in the world. It is composed of 33 atolls scattered over more than 2 million square miles of ocean, yet its total land area is only 264 square miles. Kiribati is located in the central Pacific, near the point at which the international dateline intersects the equator. The islands are in three main groups: the Gilbert, Phoenix, and Line Islands and Banaba Island.

Kiribati is tropical, with an average daytime temperature of 91 degrees Fahrenheit that varies little from season to season. Rainfall varies greatly, ranging from 40 inches yearly near the equator to 120 inches in the extreme north and south. Banaba Island, the central and southern Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands, and Kiritimati Island are also subject to severe droughts that may last many months.

Social Activities

Just about any social gathering in Kiribati is called a botaki. These range from having a few friends over for dinner to a week-long island-wide festival. The average botaki is held in a mwaneaba (meeting house) where people sit in a large circle around the floor. The older men and guests usually sit in front with the women and children sitting around the edge of the mwaneaba behind the men. Almost always, speeches are given, some prayers are said, and large amounts of food are eaten. Groups of people also stand up and sing songs. Often, Volunteers are asked to sing as a group. If there is a generator or other power source available, loud music is played and people are invited to dance in the middle of the mwaneaba. If you are asked to dance, it is typically considered an insult if you decline. Botakis are held for a variety of reasons, including a first or 21st birthday, first menstruation, engagement, wedding, anniversaries of buildings or people’s arrival on the island, and any holiday. The biggest national holiday is in July when Kiribati celebrates its independence from Britain. This is a week-long national holiday. Other holidays include International Women’s Day, Easter, National Youth Day, Human Rights Day, National Health Day, Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year’s.

You will not have much privacy in Kiribati. Because you are new and different, people will constantly be curious about what you are doing. Often a neighbor or child will just stop by your house to say hello or to watch you. This is not viewed as offensive in Kiribati culture; people are curious and often want to get to know you better. Through training and time, you will learn how to deal with social interactions and still keep some time for yourself, although this is not always easy to do.

Friendships and relationships are viewed differently in Kiribati than in the United States. Men and women who are not married are never supposed to be alone together and do not display affection in public. You will be required to observe these cultural norms. It is very unusual for anyone to live alone outside of a family group. This is another reason that Volunteers are assigned to live with families.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

There are different standards of professionalism on Tarawa and on the outer islands, but they are still not the standards you are probably used to at home. One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity. In time, you will realize you are an I-Matang (all foreigners are from Matang, the mythical land where the sun sets); you are no longer just an American nor are you an I-Kiribati. You are something different, something new, made up of elements of both cultures plus your own psyche.

You will be working as a representative of a government ministry and you will be expected to dress and behave accordingly. While some of your counterparts may dress in worn or shabby clothes, it is probably a result of economics rather than choice. The likelihood is that they are wearing their “best.” A foreigner wearing ragged, unmended clothing is likely to be considered rude and ill-mannered.

Personal Safety

More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Kiribati is generally a country with a very low crime rate compared to most other countries in the world. But alcohol changes the behavior and the rules in many ways.

Some I-Kiribati will drink to excess rather than in moderation.

Because alcohol consumption can be a significant factor affecting individual safety, Volunteers need to be cautious of others who are inebriated and aware of their own behavior.

Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Kiribati Volunteers complete their two years of service without major personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce their risks and enhance their safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Kiribati. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your own safety and well-being. Women should never travel alone after dark in the outer islands—even walking from one village to another or to your school. Women should also not go biking or jogging by themselves in isolated areas, and should never go walking in the bush alone.

Rewards and Frustrations=

One of the few predictions one can safely make about being a Peace Corps Volunteer is that it will never be entirely predictable. You can learn from the experience of former Volunteers, but there are certain to be times when you are confronted by situations that are completely new and wholly your own. How can you prepare yourself for this? There are no easy tricks for dealing with the unexpected, but we can tell you something about the kinds of situations you are likely to encounter and how other Volunteers have handled them. Psychologists have shown that people do better in unfamiliar situations if they prepare themselves by imagining how they will feel and starting to adapt to the probable tensions and frustrations.


Cultural adaptation is one of the most important aspects of your service. Here are some characteristics that are critical for adapting to a new culture.

A good sense of humor. A sense of humor is important because there will be much to cry or get angry, annoyed, embarrassed, or discouraged about, and the ability to laugh about things will be your ultimate weapon against despair.

Lowered expectations. Americans abroad too often undertake tasks that are unrealistic. If you set your goals too high and refuse to adjust them to the realities of what can actually be accomplished in a foreign environment, you are going to be disappointed. Experience shows that Americans who are less goal-oriented or task-driven, and more able to relax and ride with events, tend to be more effective and enjoy themselves more overseas.

The ability to fail. The ability to tolerate failure is critical because everyone fails at something overseas. Ironically, however, those most likely to be selected to go overseas are those who have been most successful at home. Some people sent abroad will have never before experienced failure. If you have little tolerance for failure, you will be in trouble, as will those who work or live with you.

Patience, flexibility, and self-reliance. Although the Peace Corps staff will work hard to support you in your service, resolving the many challenges you will face will often depend on your own ability, determination, and strength of commitment to Peace Corps service.

If you have all or most of these characteristics, you are likely to do well. However, there will be other adjustments for you to make. People who thrive on an urban lifestyle of restaurants, bars, plays, movies, concerts, and shopping will likely find the calm and quiet of Kiribati life somewhat difficult.

The pre-service training staff, composed of I-Kiribati language and cultural instructors and some American staff, will give you a detailed picture of what to expect once you move to your permanent assignment. You will also meet former and current Volunteers who have worked in both the education and health projects in Kiribati. Following are some of the issues that may arise once you have settled in.

Isolation. The name “Peace Corps” is somewhat misleading. It implies a coherent company of Americans who work together when, in fact, most Volunteers work with citizens of the host country rather than other Volunteers. A Volunteer’s work is often solitary, without the support one gets from working with people who share a common background. There will be times when you will feel very much alone, especially in contrast with the intense togetherness of most training programs.

Constant scrutiny. Paradoxically, although you will often feel alone, you might also feel that you are never alone—that you are always under scrutiny, and that there is never a moment when you are not representing the “image” of the Peace Corps. In the United States, we work at a job, and then we go home and take off our shoes and relax. But from the moment you begin Peace Corps training, it may seem as if you live in a fishbowl. Even those who initially find this exhilarating eventually can find it irritating and burdensome.

Privacy vs. intimacy. While some Volunteers live in the same village as other Volunteers, all Volunteers are assigned a Kiribati host family. Such an arrangement has the advantages of companionship and support, but it also places you in intense relationships with people not entirely of your own choosing. You may have had a similar experience with a college roommate, but then you were able to get away from each other for periods of time. This will not be possible in Kiribati, and the enforced intimacy, even with a compatible colleague, could wear on both of you.

Homesickness. If you have formed warm attachments to other people, you may react to separation from family and friends by becoming sad and lonely. This feeling is not unique to the Peace Corps. One may have gotten homesick after going away to college or joining the military. And because you are so far away, any trouble at home—such as the illness of a parent or the dissolution of a romance—can become magnified and distorted. Sometimes the opposite occurs. Disturbing news from home may be minimized as a Volunteer attributes feelings of tension to problems in the immediate environment, when the real source of the distress is thousands of miles away.

Unfamiliar customs. Ideally, meals are a time of relaxation, but in a new country they may be a perpetually unsettling challenge. The available food may not only be strange in type and appearance but it may be unpalatable. Yet since eating is a significant social function and a vehicle to personal relations, you may feel obligated to demonstrate your friendliness and willingness to accept local customs by eating food that you don’t want. What you decide in each case will be the result of balancing several factors—the requirement for courtesy, the limits of your own tolerance for new foods, and realistic concerns for your health.

Procedures for washing, sleeping, and elimination may also differ dramatically from what you are used to. Sexual customs and accepted dress may appear excessively strict in some respects or embarrassingly free in others. You might find your tolerance of noise and dirt different from what you imagined it to be.

In all these aspects of daily life, you may feel yourself pulled in opposite directions between your accustomed life and that of your hosts. At times, your life may seem to consist of a series of minor nagging frustrations. Such frustrations can accumulate, and you might finish a long day of hard work feeling exhilarated and happy and yet be inexplicably exasperated because you don’t have a paper napkin to wipe your mouth.

Culture shock. Your initial reaction to Kiribati is likely to be one of delight and curiosity, similar to how a tourist would react. But working in a foreign country is another matter. The differences that strike you as fascinating at first will become commonplace and invisible, and you might become aware of more profound differences between you and the people with whom you work. For example, when talking to an I-Kiribati in English or the local tongue, you might suddenly realize that although you are using the same language, you do not understand each other. Words like “democratic” or “clean” or “soon” may have different meanings for each of you. You might be mystified to find that local people who consider themselves democratic and who talk with sincerity about their struggle for freedom and independence can, at the same time, treat subordinates, women, children, or other people in what strikes you as a harshly authoritarian manner.

Such a breakdown in communication may be heightened by misperceptions you and your host may have of each other. You may feel that the host is not talking to you but to a fantasy of what Americans are like. Similarly, you may be addressing a preconceived image of your host derived from cross-cultural area studies. In either case, the result is a failure to understand each other and a consequent sense of frustration.

At times it is difficult to remember that all people have a common humanity, and that merely knowing a person’s nationality does not tell you whether the person is skillful or inept, constant or mercurial, honest or dishonest, industrious or lazy. There is a temptation to fall back on glib cultural stereotypes, but much of the success or failure of a Volunteer’s work depends on his or her ability to understand the language and culture sufficiently well to make an accurate assessment of individuals. It is not an exaggeration to state that every successful Peace Corps project begins by identifying a particular host country national who is competent, reliable, understanding, and dedicated. A deep conviction that you share a common humanity with your host that transcends any cultural differences will be a big help.