Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Mongolia

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In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.

Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Mongolia, 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 Mongolia.

Outside of Mongolia’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What is viewed as “typical” cultural behavior or norms may 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 Mongolia 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 life in Mongolia, 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 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 Mongolia[edit]

The Peace Corps staff in Mongolia 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, religions, ethnic groups, and ages and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.

What Might a Volunteer Face?[edit]

Possible Issues for Female Volunteers[edit]

A single woman living alone is against the cultural norm in Mongolia, and you may be asked often about why you are not married or why you are serving alone when your family is living in the United States. You may receive more unwanted and inappropriate attention from Mongolian men than what you are used to in the United States. Therefore, you may need to keep a low social profile and practice discretion in public. You may have to work harder than male Volunteers to gain the respect of host country colleagues in the workplace.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color[edit]

Volunteers of color in Mongolia often express frustration and annoyance at being asked where they are from. When they answer, for example, “African American,” “Asian American,” or “Mexican American,” some Mongolians react with surprise, suspicion, or disbelief. Chinese Americans may be regarded with suspicion because of Mongolians’ historically based mistrust of China. Americans of Korean or Japanese descent may be mistaken for Chinese. You may feel isolated within your Volunteer group if there are no other Volunteers of the same ethnicity.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers[edit]

Respect comes with age in Mongolia. Younger Volunteers may have to work harder than their older colleagues at being accepted as professionals. On the other hand, older Volunteers may feel isolated within the Peace Corps community, as the majority of Volunteers are in their 20s. They may work or live with individuals who have little understanding of or respect for the lives and experiences of senior citizens and therefore cannot provide needed personal support. Senior Volunteers may find that younger Volunteers look to them for advice and support. While some seniors find this a very enjoyable experience, others choose not to fill this role. Older trainees sometimes encounter a lack of attention to their needs for a particular learning environment, including timing and method of presentation. You may need to be assertive in developing an effective, individual approach to language learning.

Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers[edit]

Sexual mores in Mongolia are conservative, and Volunteers are expected to respect them. Many Mongolians believe that gay and lesbian relationships are wrong or that such relationships do not exist in their country. Some gay and lesbian Volunteers who have served in Mongolia report that they were not able to be open about their sexual orientation. Those who are open may be hassled in public places or in the workplace. You may serve for two years without meeting other gay, lesbian, or bisexual Volunteers and may sense a lack of support and understanding among your Volunteer group. Men may encounter machismo and be expected to join in talk of sexual conquests and dirty jokes.

But there is a small community for LGBT people. The Youth and Health center is formed in 2003 and Volunteers may contact them to get support. http://www.gay.mn

In the past, gay and lesbian Volunteers have formed their own support group. You might find some helpful information at www.geocities.com/~lgbrpcv/, a website affiliated with the National Peace Corps Association.

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers[edit]

Propaganda or teaching about any religion other than Buddhism, Islam, and shamanism by foreign residents is prohibited in Mongolia outside the monasteries and churches of the respective religions. Volunteers who openly proselytize for a particular religion are in direct violation of Peace Corps policy. More confusing and difficult to deal with, however, are the seemingly innocent things many Americans do, such as discussing major religious holidays like Easter and Christmas, which could be misconstrued by people who are sensitive about missionary activities. Volunteers who are not clear as to what constitutes religious proselytizing should consult with the country director.

You are, of course, free to exercise or express your personal religious beliefs in a way that does not impair your effectiveness as a Volunteer. Peace Corps/Mongolia interprets this to mean that you should not engage in any religious activity while at work.

Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities[edit]

As a disabled Volunteer in Mongolia, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Mongolia, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudices against individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. And 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 accommodations, of performing a full tour of Volunteer service in Mongolia without unreasonable risk to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Mongolia staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, and other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.