Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Georgia
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Revision as of 00:51, 23 November 2008
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcome among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race, and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other, despite our many differences. Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal.
In other ways, however, our diversity poses challenges. In Georgia, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyles, background, and beliefs will be judged in a cultural context very different from our own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in some host countries.
Outside of Georgia’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What is advertised as “typical” cultural behavior or norms may also be a narrow and selective interpretation, such as the perception in some countries that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Georgia 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 differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to the ways of your host country, 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 will need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during your pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Georgia
The Peace Corps staff in Georgia recognizes 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 cultures, backgrounds, religions, ethnic groups, and ages and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who will take pride in supporting each other and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
The comments below come from Volunteers who have served in Georgia. It is important to recognize that these issues may or may not have an impact on your own Volunteer experience.
Rather, they are here to make all Peace Corps Volunteers aware of issues that one particular group or another may have to face. As you read them, you might ask yourself, “How would I feel if that happened to me?” and “How could I help a fellow Volunteer if it happened to him or her?” Some sections conclude with personal comments from individual Volunteers about their experience in Georgia.
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Georgia is a traditional, patriarchal culture. Although several women have achieved high rank within the government, people at the community level have not had much experience with women who have professional roles or who live independently of their families. Current Volunteers report that service is more difficult for female than for male Volunteers. It is a challenge for Volunteers in Georgia to cope effectively and constructively with the different status of women and men and the different standards of behavior to which they are held.
Female Volunteers may find that a single woman living alone goes against the cultural norm. They may receive more unwanted and inappropriate attention from Georgian men than in the United States or have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the respect of Georgian colleagues in the workplace. Female Volunteers may experience resentment from Georgian women for their “male-like” positions of authority in the community and they may need to keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public (e.g., no smoking in public or drinking in bars) to avoid developing an undesirable reputation in the community.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Volunteers from any minority group may be the only minority trainees or Volunteers within a particular program. They may work and live with individuals with no experience or understanding of their respective culture(s). They may not receive the necessary personal support from other Volunteers or find minority role models within Peace Corps country staff.
African-American Volunteers may be evaluated as less professionally competent than non-black Volunteers. They may be called “Negroes,” which may not be necessarily used as a derogatory term, but as the local word used to describe black people. African-American Volunteers may find themselves the focus of constant staring, pointing, and comments.
Hispanic American Volunteers may not be considered or perceived as being North American or they may be the subject of stereotyped perceptions of other Hispanic cultures, such as Cuban or Puerto Rican. Likewise, Asian-American Volunteers may be the subject of stereotyped perceptions of behavior observed in films: “Kung Fu Syndrome.” They may not be accepted as Americans and they may be identified by their cultural heritage, not by their American citizenship.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Respect comes with age in Georgia. Younger Volunteers may have to work harder than their older colleagues to be accepted as professionals. On the other hand, older Volunteers may feel isolated within the Peace Corps overseas because the majority of Volunteers are in their 20s.
In training, seniors may encounter frustration in not having their needs met for an effective learning environment in areas such as timing, presentation, and style. They will need to be assertive in developing an effective, individual approach to language learning.
During their service, seniors may work and live with individuals who have little understanding of, or respect for, lives and experiences of senior Americans. They may not receive the necessary personal support from younger Volunteers or find that younger Volunteers may look to them for advice and support (some seniors find this a very enjoyable part of their Volunteer experience; others choose not to fill this role).
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Volunteers find that Georgians may not understand or accept open homosexuality. For Volunteers, acceptable American styles for hair, earrings on men, certain mannerisms, or clothes may be highly suspect in Georgia.
Most Georgian homosexuals will probably have migrated to larger cities, and many Peace Corps Volunteers are posted in rural sites. While relationships with homosexual host country nationals can happen, as with all cross-cultural relationships, they may not be easy.
Lesbians/gays will have to deal with constant questions about boyfriends/girlfriends, marriage, and sex (as do all Volunteers). Wearing an “engagement ring” may help. Gay men must deal with machismo: talk of conquest(s), girl watching, and dirty jokes.
In Georgia, basic civil liberties may be ignored; homosexuals may be hassled in bars or in the streets.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Volunteers are frequently asked about their religious affiliation and may be invited to attend a community church. Volunteers not in the practice of attending church may be challenged to explain their reasons for not wanting to go, but it is possible to politely decline if the church or religious practice is not of your choice. Most Volunteers facing these issues have found effective ways to cope and have come to feel quite at home in Georgia.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Georgia, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Georgia, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. There is very little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States.
That being said, as part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodation, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Georgia without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/Georgia staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in their training, housing, job sites, or in other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.