Difference between pages "Health care and safety in Romania" and "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria"

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===Communications===
  
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Romania maintains a clinic with two full-time medical contractors, a part-time assistant, and an office assistant to take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Romania at local, American-standard clinics and hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to an American medical facility in the region or to the United States.
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====Mail====
  
===Health Issues in Romania ===
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Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service considered normal in the United States. If you expect U.S.  standards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration.  Mail sent via airmail takes three to four weeks, and packages sent by surface mail take from two to six months. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately, this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Packages and letters arriving in Bulgaria are often checked by officials for dangerous items and sometimes for money or expensive items as well. The inspectors usually reseal the packages and letters and send them on, but some may never arrive at their destination.  Advise your family and friends to number their letters and include “Airmail” on their envelopes. (For letters, we recommend global airmail, available at U.S. post offices.)
  
Health issues in Romania are similar to those in other eastern European countries and include respiratory problems (a result of air pollution) and hepatitis. Major problems are rare; when they do occur, they are often the result of individuals not taking adequate preventive measures. Other problems include colds, sinus infections, the flu, skin infections, headaches, dental problems, small injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, adjustment problems, and alcohol abuse. At the beginning of your service, the Peace Corps will give you immunizations for tetanus, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A and B, and polio. If you have recently had any of these immunizations, bring documented proof with you to avoid unnecessary second shots.  
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It is also advisable to have your mail addressed to you in both Cyrillic and Latin script. While this is not necessary, it does make Bulgarian postal handlers less suspicious of incoming mail. We don’t recommend that your friends and family declare large values for packages sent or insure them, as you may need to pay a tax to release packages of considerable value from customs.  
  
===Helping You Stay Healthy ===
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Despite these challenges, we encourage you to write to your family regularly (snail mail or email) and to number your own written letters. It is a good idea to advise family members that mail is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. Also advise them that in the case of a family emergency, they should contact the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services in Washington, D.C.
  
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in Romania, you will receive a medical handbook and a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit are listed later in this chapter.  
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After pre-service training, you will become a Volunteer and move to your site. Mail should then be addressed directly to you at your new residence. You can provide this information to family and friends toward the end of training prior to moving to your site. If your residence does not provide for a secure or private mailbox, it may be better to have your personal mail sent to you at your work address.  
  
During pre-service training, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the medical office. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as we will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available here and it may take several months for shipments to arrive.  
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Bulgarian postal and customs regulations for packages make it very impractical and expensive to receive anything except letter mail during training. Tell family and friends that they should NOT send packages until after you have completed training and are at your assigned site. At that time, you will be better able to assess what things from home you really need and how best to have them sent.  
  
You will have physicals at midservice and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the Peace Corps’ medical contractor will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Romania, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
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====Telephones====
  
===Maintaining Your Health ===
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Your apartment may or may not have a landline telephone— many don’t. For in-country calling, most Volunteers use mobile phones, which they purchase themselves. However, fees associated with mobile phones are high and most Volunteers find that talking for long periods of time on the phone is out of their budget. Instead, Volunteers (and most Bulgarians) generally rely heavily on text messaging from cellphones for a small fee. All of the major Bulgarian cellular service providers also offer free text messaging from the Internet, allowing Volunteers to send quick messages free of charge.
  
As a Volunteer, you must accept a certain amount of responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage “An ounce of prevention ...” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Romania is to take preventive measures for the following:
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Standard long-distance telephone service is available but expensive. If you are calling on a landline from outside the capital, it may take longer to get a connection. Some calling cards from the United States (e.g., those issued by AT&T, MCI, and Sprint) can be used to call the United States. However, these cards will not give you access to other countries because of a phone block in Bulgaria.
  
Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide—such as food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, and typhoid fever—are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. The Peace Corps will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in Romania during pre-service training.  
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Many Volunteers feel that the best method of calling the U.S. is to do so at an Internet club. Internet clubs often have phone booths where you can call internationally for mere cents per minute. Another cheap option is to use voice-over Internet protocol programs such as Skype or VOIPStunt from a computer. Even if you do not have a computer or a home Internet connection, most towns have Internet clubs where you can use these programs.  
  
Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV/AIDS and other STDs. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a Romanian, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information about this important issue throughout your training and service.  
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If these options are not available in your town, you can make international calls from a local public telephone or post office.  The country code for Bulgaria is 359 for family and friends calling from the U.S.
  
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. The medical office can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical office.
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====Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access====
  
It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical office or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, and that you let the medical office know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries. For example, rabies exists in Romania, and if you are exposed to an animal that is known to have or suspected of having rabies, you should inform the medical office at once so that you can receive post-exposure shots.  
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Some, but not all, Volunteers have access to computers at their work sites, which may or may not have Internet and e-mail capabilities. Work site equipment is intended to be used primarily for work-related activities, and you should not assume that it can be used for personal purposes.  Internet and e-mail access is becoming more widely available throughout Bulgaria, and Internet cafes can be found in most towns, although they are generally not found in the rural villages. While it is likely you will have Internet access not far from your site, you should not assume that you will have constant email access.  
  
===Women’s Health Information ===
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If you bring a laptop computer, the Peace Corps does not provide e-mail accounts or technical and repair support. While many Volunteers find computers extremely useful, the Peace Corps does not consider them to be essential and cannot replace them in the case of loss or theft. If you do bring computer equipment, insurance is highly recommended.
  
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention but also have programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in-country.  Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met.
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===Housing and Site Location===
  
If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps medical office in Romania will provide them. If you require a specific feminine hygiene product, please bring a six-month supply with you.  
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Housing is generally provided by a Volunteer’s sponsoring organization. Most Volunteers live in a modest studio or one-bedroom apartment with plumbing, heating, and electricity.  The range of available housing may vary greatly between Volunteers and sites. If you live in a town or city, you will likely live in an apartment in a communist-style housing “block,” that, from the exterior, resembles the high-rises in public housing projects in U.S. cities.  
  
===Your Peace Corps Medical Kit ===
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Volunteers assigned to smaller communities should be prepared for the possibility that they may live in a private room in the home of a Bulgarian family. This can offer huge advantages in terms of being accepted into a local family and being “taken care of.” Note that Bulgarian standards of privacy differ from those in the U.S. It is also common that landlords may leave some of their personal items in an apartment that they are renting out.
  
The Peace Corps medical office will provide you with a medical kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.  
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Your heat source could be either one or more portable heaters, central heat, or wood-burning stoves in some rural areas. Heat and electricity are very expensive, and Bulgarians usually only heat the room they are currently in. They usually only turn on their hot water boiler when they are planning to take a shower. Expect for it to be cold inside during the winter, and for it to be very hot during the summer. Indoor climate control concepts differ from what you are likely used to in the U.S.  
  
====Medical Kit Contents ====
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The Peace Corps staff uses an involved and thorough process to identify Volunteers’ host organizations and towns. Potential host organizations fill out an in-depth application in which they state their reasons for wanting to work with a Volunteer, their organizational goals, how they see a Volunteer fitting into their organization, what specific work the Volunteer will assist with, desired skills, and available resources. Staff visits each site and discusses these items with the potential hosts, and ultimately uses a methodical system of evaluating potential sites based on their strengths and the potential for a Volunteer to be successful at those sites.
  
Ace bandages <br>
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Toward the middle of your 11-week pre-service training (PST), the Peace Corps office and training staff match trainees and sites, and trainees learn where they will live and work for the next two years. Education, professional experience, and level of Bulgarian language ability are considered in matching individual Volunteers’ skills with the needs of each site. Volunteers should be prepared to serve in any region of Bulgaria.
Adhesive tape  <br>
 
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook  <br>
 
Antacid tablets (Tums)  <br>
 
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)  <br>
 
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)  <br>
 
Band-Aids  <br>
 
Butterfly closures  <br>
 
Calamine lotion  <br>
 
Cepacol lozenges  <br>
 
Condoms  <br>
 
Dental floss  <br>
 
Diphenhydramine HCL 25&nbsp;mg (Benadryl)   <br>
 
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)  <br>
 
Iodine tablets (for water purification)  <br>
 
Lip balm (Chapstick)  <br>
 
Oral rehydration salts and Gatorade  <br>
 
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)  <br>
 
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30&nbsp;mg (Sudafed)  <br>
 
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)  <br>
 
Scissors  <br>
 
Sterile gauze pads  <br>
 
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)  <br>
 
Tinactin (antifungal cream)  <br>
 
Tweezers  <br>
 
  
===Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist ===
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===Living Allowance and Money Management===
  
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.  
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You will receive a monthly living allowance that will enable you to maintain a modest lifestyle similar to that of your host community counterpart. This allowance will be deposited in your bank account every month by Peace Corps/Bulgaria. It is intended to cover food, household supplies, local transportation, recreation, entertainment, and incidental expenses such as postage, film, reading material, stationery, and toiletries. In most cases, rent and utilities are paid by the sponsoring organization, but the Peace Corps assists with these expenses in some circumstances.  
  
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.  
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Most Volunteers in Bulgaria find their living allowance to be sufficient for their needs, as long as they live a frugal lifestyle. The lifestyle you adopt while serving in Bulgaria will determine how far your living allowance goes. These days in Bulgaria, there are many things to spend money on, and if you choose to eat daily in restaurants, travel a significant portion of your weekends, and buy imported food and toiletries, your living allowance likely will not last through each month. You may also have a harder time becoming a part of your community if you live at a higher level than the average Bulgarian. If you adopt a more typical Bulgarian lifestyle, cook frequently, and choose primarily from the ample selections of local goods, your living allowance should be more than adequate. It is important to live at the same economic level as your Bulgarian counterparts.  
  
If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment shortly after you arrive in Romania.
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===Food and Diet===
  
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, we will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take several months—you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements.  
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It is possible to eat a very healthy and natural diet in Bulgaria, if you prepare many of your own meals and use local foods. Larger towns and cities offer many of the same basic staples that you can find in the United States, with the exception of pre-prepared and instant foods. Volunteers in smaller towns sometimes experience shortages of certain items, especially in the winter, but there is typically an ample food supply if you are flexible about cooking with what is currently available. If you live in a small village, you may choose to occasionally shop in larger towns in your region, to fill in your food supplies and get items unavailable at your site.  
  
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying a three-month supply of prescription drugs.  
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Grilled meat and potatoes or salads best capture the essence of Bulgarian cuisine. Meals served in a family setting are heavy, oily, filling, and take hours to finish (after a big Bulgarian meal, you may have to lie down and rest a while!).  Many dishes are overly salty by American standards and Bulgarians cook with lots of sunflower oil. Pork and chicken are the most popular meats—served roasted, breaded and fried, or grilled. The selection of seafood is limited, and it is advisable to refrain from eating it unless you know its origin.  Seafood from the Danube or the Black Sea should generally not be eaten, while trout from mountain streams and fish raised on farms is generally safe to eat.  
  
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. We discourage you from using contact lenses during your Peace Corps service to reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. You may not have appropriate water and sanitation at your site to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.  
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Vegetarians may get weary of eating breaded cheese, fried potatoes, or salad every time they go out for a meal or visit Bulgarian friends, but the abundance and low prices of wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables in season make it possible to prepare delicious meals at home. Prices of produce fluctuate greatly according to the season. Peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, cabbages, eggplants, zucchinis, and carrots are almost always available. However, in the winter, depending on your community, you may have to rely mostly on potatoes, cabbages, carrots, dried beans, and canned items. Locally-grown fruits are available from late spring to late fall. During the winter, you may have to make do with canned fruits and fruit juice and imported fruits such as bananas, apples, and oranges.  
  
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.  
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Cereal and grains are available, although breakfast cereals can be expensive, as Bulgarians typically do not eat cereal for breakfast. The typical Bulgarian breakfast is “banitza” a delicious pastry made from filo dough and cheese—which is made fresh daily in most towns and villages and costs around 35 cents. Bulgarians eat bread with every meal, and even the smallest town has a place where you can buy freshly-baked bread on a daily basis. Rice, pasta, and all-purpose white flour can also be purchased easily, but you will have to search extensively for whole-wheat flour. Various types of beans are widely available, and lentils are widely used. Dried soybean product was used in the past as a cheaper substitute for meat, and is available in specialty stores in the larger towns and cities. Boxed, long-life pasteurized milk is readily available. Milk packaged in plastic bags is not pasteurized and should be boiled before drinking. The two types of local cheese are delicious and always available. Imported cheese is also available but expensive. Bulgarian yogurt, made primarily from cow and sheep milk, is a staple of the Bulgarian, and is well-known world wide.  
  
===Safety and Security—Our Partnership ===
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A cookbook of recipes to help you make the most of products available in Bulgaria will be given to you during training. You will be making a lot of things from scratch here, and if you do not already know how to cook, you will learn. Don’t worry, before long you will be sharing your favorite recipes with other Volunteers.
  
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk.  Property thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again.
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===Transportation===
  
The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety and security information.  
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Bulgaria has a large network of bus and train routes, which makes it possible to travel to practically all destinations by public transportation. Many Volunteers have experienced thefts while traveling, however, so you must be vigilant in protecting your valuables while using public transportation. Traveling on trams in Sofia requires extra vigilance.  
  
The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.  
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When traveling on trains, it is best to travel in a compartment with a baba (grandmother) as a protection against crime.  If possible, put your heavier baggage on the shelf above your head (not above someone else’s) so that you will notice if someone tries to take it down. Put smaller luggage underneath your feet. Although people may warn you against this (a Bulgarian superstition says you will lose money), it is a relatively safe option.  
  
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
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===Geography and Climate===
  
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control.  Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).  
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Bulgaria is located in the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. The country is bordered by the Black Sea in the east, Turkey and Greece in the south, Macedonia and Serbia in the west, and Romania in the north. Although slightly larger than Tennessee, Bulgaria stands out as a land of great geographic and environmental diversity. The average elevation is 480 meters (1,584 feet) above sea level.  
  
* Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 43 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
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The country has four major geographic regions. The most northerly is the Danube plateau, which rises from the shores of the Danube River to the foothills in the east. Its climate is continental, with hot summers and cold winters. The second region is the Balkan Mountains (or “Old Mountains” to the Bulgarians), which extends across the center of the country and blocks cold winds from the plains of Russia. The third region, the valley drained by the Maritsa River in the south, has a Mediterranean climate with mild, rainy winters and warm, dry summers. South of the Maritsa Valley is the fourth region, the Rhodope Mountains, which forms the border between Bulgaria and Greece.  
* Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the evening between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.— with most assaults occurring around 1:00 a.m.
 
* Absence of others: Assaults ususally occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompannied and in 55 percent of physical assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied.
 
* Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
 
* Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
 
  
===Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk ===
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Bulgaria has a Mediterranean climate with four distinct seasons. As in the United States, weather patterns have been changing in recent years, so it is difficult to describe a “typical” year. Spring generally brings frequent rain. Spring and fall are temperate and feature beautiful flora. Summer temperatures average about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius); but in July and August, they can reach the 90- to 100-degree Fahrenheit range for a two-week period or longer. The highlands in the northeast are cooler than the more Mediterranean climate of the southwest. Bulgaria can get cold and gray in the winter, with temperatures averaging around 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius).
  
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
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===Social Activities===
  
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
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There are a multitude of activities you can explore, however, if you are open to trying new activities that you may have not previously thought of as social/recreational activities. You may find out that you enjoy hanging out with the local babas (grandmothers) and learning to can food, that you get used to spending hours on end at a local coffee shop (this is likely to be the most popular social activity in your town!), and that you are not comfortable spending much time at the local disco, as it may be full of your high school students. The trick is to find things that give you satisfaction and enjoyment. It is up to you to make the most of your leisure time, and there is plenty to do if you just go out and look for it.
  
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:
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Bulgaria has museums, concerts, town festivals, theaters, athletic events, hot springs, outdoor markets, historical and ethnographic centers, coffee shops, bars, discos, and cinemas (in bigger towns and cities) for you to enjoy. The most recently released American films are shown in English with Bulgarian subtitles but are usually dubbed by the time they make it to the video rental shops.
  
* Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel
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Bulgaria boasts some of the most magnificent natural areas in Eastern Europe, with a great diversity of flora and fauna. Opportunities for outdoor recreation include hiking, camping, rock climbing, and birdwatching. Many of the towns in mountain regions have local hiking clubs. During the winter, Bulgarian ski resorts attract skiers from the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, and the Nordic countries.
* Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
 
* Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
 
* Carry valuables in different pockets/places
 
* Carry a “dummy” wallet as a decoy Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:
 
* Live with a local family or on a family compound
 
* Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk
 
* Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.  
 
* Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
 
* Make local friends
 
* Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing
 
* Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
 
* Travel with someone whenever possible
 
* Avoid known high crime areas
 
* Limit alcohol consumption 
 
  
===Support from Staff ===
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===Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior===
  
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security; Information and Personnel Security; Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise; and Crime Statistics and Analysis.  
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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 and acting like a professional all at the same time. It is not an easy thing to do successfully, and we can only provide you with guidelines. As a representative of a Bulgarian organization, you will be expected to dress and behave accordingly. “Business casual” is the catchall term for appropriate professional attire as a Volunteer in Bulgaria.  
  
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.  
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Bulgarians dress very stylishly and take great pride in their appearance. They commonly, however, only have a few outfits that they wear repeatedly. While there is no hard-and-fast rule, a foreigner who wears ragged or dirty clothing is likely to be considered disrespectful and possibly unreliable. Improper attire creates difficulties in gaining the respect and acceptance of your Bulgarian colleagues. At the same time, Volunteers who outdress the Bulgarians they work with may find they have difficulty fitting in. In general, Volunteers should dress to match their colleagues. Sometimes this can mean nice jeans and a casual, button-up shirt; other times this can mean wearing a tie daily. In an ethnic Bulgarian community, colorful and stylish attire is likely very appropriate, while in some minority communities, more modest dress is important. Keep in mind that you can purchase most clothing you would want for day-to-day use for reasonable prices throughout Bulgaria, so you may want to bring minimal clothing from the U.S.  
  
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed.  
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You will also have semi-regular occasions to dress up for weddings and other special events, so bring some more formal attire in addition to professional clothes for everyday wear in the office or classroom. Casual clothes like jeans, shorts, T-shirts, and tank tops are also appropriate in some situations, but almost always outside of the professional environment.  
  
After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provide support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.
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===Personal Safety===
  
The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/ trainees in Romania as compared to all other Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia (EMA) region programs as a whole, from 2001–2005. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.  
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More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon; Volunteers may be at the highest risk for pickpocketing when they are in cities with other Volunteers and are speaking English on the street. It is obvious then that they are foreigners, and they are less attentive because they are distracted by conversation. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Bulgaria Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Bulgaria. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well being.  
  
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
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===Rewards and Frustrations===
  
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population. It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps’ classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.  
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Volunteers in Bulgaria must demonstrate a great deal of flexibility, patience, and maturity. Counterparts may sometimes feel threatened by your different methods, your energy, and your drive to work. When you first arrive at your site, you will need to focus on building relationships and gaining the trust of your colleagues and community. Then, you will be in a much stronger position to get things done. Many Volunteers find that once they are accepted by a community, they are “in” and are both embraced the their communities and are well-respected. It takes considerable time and effort to get to this point. Although earlier groups of Volunteers in Bulgaria have made the Peace Corps known to many in the community, you may have to explain your role as a development worker. The concept of volunteerism is a bit odd to most Bulgarians. In spite of your modest stipend, you may be perceived as a rich foreigner. You should expect frequent and lengthy delays in almost everything you are engaged in.  
  
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
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All Volunteers are expected to be highly motivated and proactive, flexible, professional, and committed to the Peace Corps’ ideals and goals. The Peace Corps staff and current Volunteers take their commitment to serve the people of Bulgaria seriously. We invite you to join us in this effort, but only if you are confident that you can commit yourself to completing your two-year assignment.  
  
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.  
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Because of the many economic and political difficulties and changes Bulgaria faces, the atmosphere in the country is one of uncertainty. The changes occurring in Bulgaria today are some of the most significant in its history, and Bulgarians from all walks of life are sacrificing time and comfort to make a new Bulgaria, that is part of the global world. Being a part of this historic moment in Europe should be both fascinating and immensely satisfying to any Volunteer who is willing to work hard and give generously of his or her time.  
  
===What If You Become a Victim of a Violent Crime? ===
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[[Category:Bulgaria]]
 
 
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes.  The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so.  If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
 
 
 
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
 
 
 
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect.
 
 
 
Country directors and medical officers are required to report
 
 
 
all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
 
 
 
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at violentcrimehotline@peacecorps.gov.
 
 
 
===Security Issues in Romania ===
 
 
 
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. As with any country in the world, crime does exist in Romania. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Train and bus stations, for example, are favorite work sites for pickpockets, especially in large towns.  Fortunately, violent crime has not been a severe problem.
 
 
 
Harassment and pickpocketing. Volunteers have reported varying levels of harassment, such as having objects thrown at them by teenagers, being called derogatory names, and receiving overt sexual comments. Strategies for coping with harassment are discussed during pre-service training. Most places in Romania are considered safe, although women should have an escort or travel in a group at night. As economic hardships increase, street crimes have become more frequent. Areas and buildings considered risky, such as train or bus stations, should be avoided at night whenever possible.  Never carry more money than you are prepared to lose.
 
 
 
Robbery and burglary. Because you are a foreigner and will probably be considered rich, your new home may be more prone to break-ins than those of your neighbors. You will need to take the same precautions that you would take in the United States. The Peace Corps requires landlords to install two good locks on Volunteers’ doors and will advise you on other home safety measures during training.
 
 
 
Motor vehicle accidents. These represent the single greatest risk to your safety in Romania. We urge you to wear seat belts whenever they are available and to avoid riding in overcrowded public buses or maxi-taxis.
 
 
 
Alcohol abuse. People abuse alcohol in Romania, just as they do in the United States. It is best to avoid frequenting bars, particularly at night. Alcohol use impairs judgment, and all Volunteers who drink must do so responsibly. The most common factors in injuries or safety incidents involving Volunteers in Romania are alcohol consumption and late nights.
 
 
 
Sexual assault. Volunteers have been targets of sexual assault in Romania. Alcohol consumption and cross-cultural differences in gender relations are often associated with sexual assaults, and the assailant is often an acquaintance of the Volunteer. Should you become the victim of violence, the medical office is ready to help you. It is important that you involve the medical office so you can receive appropriate care, including care for your emotional well-being. The medical staff will keep all information confidential. The office can also advise you about your options for prosecuting an attacker.
 
 
 
Homosexual behavior in Romania was illegal until late 2001, when new legislation was passed. Some Romanians are homophobic, and there have been incidents of violence toward Romanians who are openly gay. The Peace Corps is committed to providing support for all Volunteers, regardless of sexual orientation.
 
 
 
===Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime ===
 
 
 
You must be prepared to take on a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Romania, do what you would do if you moved to a new city in the United States:
 
 
 
Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by integrating into your community, learning Romanian, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures.
 
 
 
Observing safety and security policies in Romania, especially if you are a woman, may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle. For example, the Peace Corps strongly recommends that women not travel by train alone at night unless they have a sleeper car with a reserved seat.
 
 
 
Volunteers attract a lot of attention both in large cities and at their sites, but they are likely to receive more negative attention in highly populated centers than at their sites, where “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them.
 
 
 
Unwanted attention can be reduced if you dress appropriately, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to negative comments or gestures. Keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch, the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat.  Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. You should always walk with a companion at night.
 
 
 
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer
 
 
 
===Support in Romania===
 
 
 
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes the following: information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for responding to safety and security incidents.  Romania’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
 
 
 
The Peace Corps/Romania office will keep you informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be offered by the country director and medical contractor through telephone, mail, and e-mail contacts. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, Volunteers will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
 
 
 
Volunteer training will include sessions on specific safety and security issues in Romania. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
 
 
 
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection is based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; different housing options and living arrangements; and other support needs.
 
 
 
You will also learn about Peace Corps/Romania’s detailed emergency action plan, which is implemented in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, Volunteers in Romania will gather at predetermined locations until the situation is resolved or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
 
 
 
Finally, in order for the Peace Corps to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps medical office. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
 
 
 
[[Category:Romania]]
 
[[Category:Health and Safety]]
 

Revision as of 13:21, 29 July 2010



Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in [[{{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |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.
  • [[Packing list for {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |8}}]]
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  • [[Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |8}}]]
  • [[Health care and safety in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |8}}]]
  • [[Diversity and cross-cultural issues in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |8}}]]
  • [[FAQs about Peace Corps in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |8}}]]
  • [[History of the Peace Corps in {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |6}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |7}} {{#explode:Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria| |8}}]]
See also:

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

For information see Welcomebooks

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Communications

Mail

Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service considered normal in the United States. If you expect U.S. standards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration. Mail sent via airmail takes three to four weeks, and packages sent by surface mail take from two to six months. Some mail may simply not arrive (fortunately, this is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen). Packages and letters arriving in Bulgaria are often checked by officials for dangerous items and sometimes for money or expensive items as well. The inspectors usually reseal the packages and letters and send them on, but some may never arrive at their destination. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and include “Airmail” on their envelopes. (For letters, we recommend global airmail, available at U.S. post offices.)

It is also advisable to have your mail addressed to you in both Cyrillic and Latin script. While this is not necessary, it does make Bulgarian postal handlers less suspicious of incoming mail. We don’t recommend that your friends and family declare large values for packages sent or insure them, as you may need to pay a tax to release packages of considerable value from customs.

Despite these challenges, we encourage you to write to your family regularly (snail mail or email) and to number your own written letters. It is a good idea to advise family members that mail is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. Also advise them that in the case of a family emergency, they should contact the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services in Washington, D.C.

After pre-service training, you will become a Volunteer and move to your site. Mail should then be addressed directly to you at your new residence. You can provide this information to family and friends toward the end of training prior to moving to your site. If your residence does not provide for a secure or private mailbox, it may be better to have your personal mail sent to you at your work address.

Bulgarian postal and customs regulations for packages make it very impractical and expensive to receive anything except letter mail during training. Tell family and friends that they should NOT send packages until after you have completed training and are at your assigned site. At that time, you will be better able to assess what things from home you really need and how best to have them sent.

Telephones

Your apartment may or may not have a landline telephone— many don’t. For in-country calling, most Volunteers use mobile phones, which they purchase themselves. However, fees associated with mobile phones are high and most Volunteers find that talking for long periods of time on the phone is out of their budget. Instead, Volunteers (and most Bulgarians) generally rely heavily on text messaging from cellphones for a small fee. All of the major Bulgarian cellular service providers also offer free text messaging from the Internet, allowing Volunteers to send quick messages free of charge.

Standard long-distance telephone service is available but expensive. If you are calling on a landline from outside the capital, it may take longer to get a connection. Some calling cards from the United States (e.g., those issued by AT&T, MCI, and Sprint) can be used to call the United States. However, these cards will not give you access to other countries because of a phone block in Bulgaria.

Many Volunteers feel that the best method of calling the U.S. is to do so at an Internet club. Internet clubs often have phone booths where you can call internationally for mere cents per minute. Another cheap option is to use voice-over Internet protocol programs such as Skype or VOIPStunt from a computer. Even if you do not have a computer or a home Internet connection, most towns have Internet clubs where you can use these programs.

If these options are not available in your town, you can make international calls from a local public telephone or post office. The country code for Bulgaria is 359 for family and friends calling from the U.S.

Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access

Some, but not all, Volunteers have access to computers at their work sites, which may or may not have Internet and e-mail capabilities. Work site equipment is intended to be used primarily for work-related activities, and you should not assume that it can be used for personal purposes. Internet and e-mail access is becoming more widely available throughout Bulgaria, and Internet cafes can be found in most towns, although they are generally not found in the rural villages. While it is likely you will have Internet access not far from your site, you should not assume that you will have constant email access.

If you bring a laptop computer, the Peace Corps does not provide e-mail accounts or technical and repair support. While many Volunteers find computers extremely useful, the Peace Corps does not consider them to be essential and cannot replace them in the case of loss or theft. If you do bring computer equipment, insurance is highly recommended.

Housing and Site Location

Housing is generally provided by a Volunteer’s sponsoring organization. Most Volunteers live in a modest studio or one-bedroom apartment with plumbing, heating, and electricity. The range of available housing may vary greatly between Volunteers and sites. If you live in a town or city, you will likely live in an apartment in a communist-style housing “block,” that, from the exterior, resembles the high-rises in public housing projects in U.S. cities.

Volunteers assigned to smaller communities should be prepared for the possibility that they may live in a private room in the home of a Bulgarian family. This can offer huge advantages in terms of being accepted into a local family and being “taken care of.” Note that Bulgarian standards of privacy differ from those in the U.S. It is also common that landlords may leave some of their personal items in an apartment that they are renting out.

Your heat source could be either one or more portable heaters, central heat, or wood-burning stoves in some rural areas. Heat and electricity are very expensive, and Bulgarians usually only heat the room they are currently in. They usually only turn on their hot water boiler when they are planning to take a shower. Expect for it to be cold inside during the winter, and for it to be very hot during the summer. Indoor climate control concepts differ from what you are likely used to in the U.S.

The Peace Corps staff uses an involved and thorough process to identify Volunteers’ host organizations and towns. Potential host organizations fill out an in-depth application in which they state their reasons for wanting to work with a Volunteer, their organizational goals, how they see a Volunteer fitting into their organization, what specific work the Volunteer will assist with, desired skills, and available resources. Staff visits each site and discusses these items with the potential hosts, and ultimately uses a methodical system of evaluating potential sites based on their strengths and the potential for a Volunteer to be successful at those sites.

Toward the middle of your 11-week pre-service training (PST), the Peace Corps office and training staff match trainees and sites, and trainees learn where they will live and work for the next two years. Education, professional experience, and level of Bulgarian language ability are considered in matching individual Volunteers’ skills with the needs of each site. Volunteers should be prepared to serve in any region of Bulgaria.

Living Allowance and Money Management

You will receive a monthly living allowance that will enable you to maintain a modest lifestyle similar to that of your host community counterpart. This allowance will be deposited in your bank account every month by Peace Corps/Bulgaria. It is intended to cover food, household supplies, local transportation, recreation, entertainment, and incidental expenses such as postage, film, reading material, stationery, and toiletries. In most cases, rent and utilities are paid by the sponsoring organization, but the Peace Corps assists with these expenses in some circumstances.

Most Volunteers in Bulgaria find their living allowance to be sufficient for their needs, as long as they live a frugal lifestyle. The lifestyle you adopt while serving in Bulgaria will determine how far your living allowance goes. These days in Bulgaria, there are many things to spend money on, and if you choose to eat daily in restaurants, travel a significant portion of your weekends, and buy imported food and toiletries, your living allowance likely will not last through each month. You may also have a harder time becoming a part of your community if you live at a higher level than the average Bulgarian. If you adopt a more typical Bulgarian lifestyle, cook frequently, and choose primarily from the ample selections of local goods, your living allowance should be more than adequate. It is important to live at the same economic level as your Bulgarian counterparts.

Food and Diet

It is possible to eat a very healthy and natural diet in Bulgaria, if you prepare many of your own meals and use local foods. Larger towns and cities offer many of the same basic staples that you can find in the United States, with the exception of pre-prepared and instant foods. Volunteers in smaller towns sometimes experience shortages of certain items, especially in the winter, but there is typically an ample food supply if you are flexible about cooking with what is currently available. If you live in a small village, you may choose to occasionally shop in larger towns in your region, to fill in your food supplies and get items unavailable at your site.

Grilled meat and potatoes or salads best capture the essence of Bulgarian cuisine. Meals served in a family setting are heavy, oily, filling, and take hours to finish (after a big Bulgarian meal, you may have to lie down and rest a while!). Many dishes are overly salty by American standards and Bulgarians cook with lots of sunflower oil. Pork and chicken are the most popular meats—served roasted, breaded and fried, or grilled. The selection of seafood is limited, and it is advisable to refrain from eating it unless you know its origin. Seafood from the Danube or the Black Sea should generally not be eaten, while trout from mountain streams and fish raised on farms is generally safe to eat.

Vegetarians may get weary of eating breaded cheese, fried potatoes, or salad every time they go out for a meal or visit Bulgarian friends, but the abundance and low prices of wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables in season make it possible to prepare delicious meals at home. Prices of produce fluctuate greatly according to the season. Peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, cabbages, eggplants, zucchinis, and carrots are almost always available. However, in the winter, depending on your community, you may have to rely mostly on potatoes, cabbages, carrots, dried beans, and canned items. Locally-grown fruits are available from late spring to late fall. During the winter, you may have to make do with canned fruits and fruit juice and imported fruits such as bananas, apples, and oranges.

Cereal and grains are available, although breakfast cereals can be expensive, as Bulgarians typically do not eat cereal for breakfast. The typical Bulgarian breakfast is “banitza” a delicious pastry made from filo dough and cheese—which is made fresh daily in most towns and villages and costs around 35 cents. Bulgarians eat bread with every meal, and even the smallest town has a place where you can buy freshly-baked bread on a daily basis. Rice, pasta, and all-purpose white flour can also be purchased easily, but you will have to search extensively for whole-wheat flour. Various types of beans are widely available, and lentils are widely used. Dried soybean product was used in the past as a cheaper substitute for meat, and is available in specialty stores in the larger towns and cities. Boxed, long-life pasteurized milk is readily available. Milk packaged in plastic bags is not pasteurized and should be boiled before drinking. The two types of local cheese are delicious and always available. Imported cheese is also available but expensive. Bulgarian yogurt, made primarily from cow and sheep milk, is a staple of the Bulgarian, and is well-known world wide.

A cookbook of recipes to help you make the most of products available in Bulgaria will be given to you during training. You will be making a lot of things from scratch here, and if you do not already know how to cook, you will learn. Don’t worry, before long you will be sharing your favorite recipes with other Volunteers.

Transportation

Bulgaria has a large network of bus and train routes, which makes it possible to travel to practically all destinations by public transportation. Many Volunteers have experienced thefts while traveling, however, so you must be vigilant in protecting your valuables while using public transportation. Traveling on trams in Sofia requires extra vigilance.

When traveling on trains, it is best to travel in a compartment with a baba (grandmother) as a protection against crime. If possible, put your heavier baggage on the shelf above your head (not above someone else’s) so that you will notice if someone tries to take it down. Put smaller luggage underneath your feet. Although people may warn you against this (a Bulgarian superstition says you will lose money), it is a relatively safe option.

Geography and Climate

Bulgaria is located in the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. The country is bordered by the Black Sea in the east, Turkey and Greece in the south, Macedonia and Serbia in the west, and Romania in the north. Although slightly larger than Tennessee, Bulgaria stands out as a land of great geographic and environmental diversity. The average elevation is 480 meters (1,584 feet) above sea level.

The country has four major geographic regions. The most northerly is the Danube plateau, which rises from the shores of the Danube River to the foothills in the east. Its climate is continental, with hot summers and cold winters. The second region is the Balkan Mountains (or “Old Mountains” to the Bulgarians), which extends across the center of the country and blocks cold winds from the plains of Russia. The third region, the valley drained by the Maritsa River in the south, has a Mediterranean climate with mild, rainy winters and warm, dry summers. South of the Maritsa Valley is the fourth region, the Rhodope Mountains, which forms the border between Bulgaria and Greece.

Bulgaria has a Mediterranean climate with four distinct seasons. As in the United States, weather patterns have been changing in recent years, so it is difficult to describe a “typical” year. Spring generally brings frequent rain. Spring and fall are temperate and feature beautiful flora. Summer temperatures average about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius); but in July and August, they can reach the 90- to 100-degree Fahrenheit range for a two-week period or longer. The highlands in the northeast are cooler than the more Mediterranean climate of the southwest. Bulgaria can get cold and gray in the winter, with temperatures averaging around 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius).

Social Activities

There are a multitude of activities you can explore, however, if you are open to trying new activities that you may have not previously thought of as social/recreational activities. You may find out that you enjoy hanging out with the local babas (grandmothers) and learning to can food, that you get used to spending hours on end at a local coffee shop (this is likely to be the most popular social activity in your town!), and that you are not comfortable spending much time at the local disco, as it may be full of your high school students. The trick is to find things that give you satisfaction and enjoyment. It is up to you to make the most of your leisure time, and there is plenty to do if you just go out and look for it.

Bulgaria has museums, concerts, town festivals, theaters, athletic events, hot springs, outdoor markets, historical and ethnographic centers, coffee shops, bars, discos, and cinemas (in bigger towns and cities) for you to enjoy. The most recently released American films are shown in English with Bulgarian subtitles but are usually dubbed by the time they make it to the video rental shops.

Bulgaria boasts some of the most magnificent natural areas in Eastern Europe, with a great diversity of flora and fauna. Opportunities for outdoor recreation include hiking, camping, rock climbing, and birdwatching. Many of the towns in mountain regions have local hiking clubs. During the winter, Bulgarian ski resorts attract skiers from the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, and the Nordic countries.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

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 and acting like a professional all at the same time. It is not an easy thing to do successfully, and we can only provide you with guidelines. As a representative of a Bulgarian organization, you will be expected to dress and behave accordingly. “Business casual” is the catchall term for appropriate professional attire as a Volunteer in Bulgaria.

Bulgarians dress very stylishly and take great pride in their appearance. They commonly, however, only have a few outfits that they wear repeatedly. While there is no hard-and-fast rule, a foreigner who wears ragged or dirty clothing is likely to be considered disrespectful and possibly unreliable. Improper attire creates difficulties in gaining the respect and acceptance of your Bulgarian colleagues. At the same time, Volunteers who outdress the Bulgarians they work with may find they have difficulty fitting in. In general, Volunteers should dress to match their colleagues. Sometimes this can mean nice jeans and a casual, button-up shirt; other times this can mean wearing a tie daily. In an ethnic Bulgarian community, colorful and stylish attire is likely very appropriate, while in some minority communities, more modest dress is important. Keep in mind that you can purchase most clothing you would want for day-to-day use for reasonable prices throughout Bulgaria, so you may want to bring minimal clothing from the U.S.

You will also have semi-regular occasions to dress up for weddings and other special events, so bring some more formal attire in addition to professional clothes for everyday wear in the office or classroom. Casual clothes like jeans, shorts, T-shirts, and tank tops are also appropriate in some situations, but almost always outside of the professional environment.

Personal Safety

More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon; Volunteers may be at the highest risk for pickpocketing when they are in cities with other Volunteers and are speaking English on the street. It is obvious then that they are foreigners, and they are less attentive because they are distracted by conversation. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Bulgaria Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Bulgaria. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well being.

Rewards and Frustrations

Volunteers in Bulgaria must demonstrate a great deal of flexibility, patience, and maturity. Counterparts may sometimes feel threatened by your different methods, your energy, and your drive to work. When you first arrive at your site, you will need to focus on building relationships and gaining the trust of your colleagues and community. Then, you will be in a much stronger position to get things done. Many Volunteers find that once they are accepted by a community, they are “in” and are both embraced the their communities and are well-respected. It takes considerable time and effort to get to this point. Although earlier groups of Volunteers in Bulgaria have made the Peace Corps known to many in the community, you may have to explain your role as a development worker. The concept of volunteerism is a bit odd to most Bulgarians. In spite of your modest stipend, you may be perceived as a rich foreigner. You should expect frequent and lengthy delays in almost everything you are engaged in.

All Volunteers are expected to be highly motivated and proactive, flexible, professional, and committed to the Peace Corps’ ideals and goals. The Peace Corps staff and current Volunteers take their commitment to serve the people of Bulgaria seriously. We invite you to join us in this effort, but only if you are confident that you can commit yourself to completing your two-year assignment.

Because of the many economic and political difficulties and changes Bulgaria faces, the atmosphere in the country is one of uncertainty. The changes occurring in Bulgaria today are some of the most significant in its history, and Bulgarians from all walks of life are sacrificing time and comfort to make a new Bulgaria, that is part of the global world. Being a part of this historic moment in Europe should be both fascinating and immensely satisfying to any Volunteer who is willing to work hard and give generously of his or her time.