Difference between pages "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Panama" and "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Albania"

From Peace Corps Wiki
(Difference between pages)
Jump to: navigation, search
 
 
Line 15: Line 15:
  
  
==Communications==
+
As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania, 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 Albanian context. You will need to learn to live on far less money than you are now used to, give up most of your privacy, and adapt to different ways of socializing. You may not be able to go out of your house much after dark or have an opportunity for dating within your community. Women will have many more restrictions than men. You will come to Albania to assist people in their efforts to improve their lives, which will be difficult.  It will be up to you to adjust to Albanian lifestyle and work practices—Albania is what it is and it won’t adjust to you. 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.
  
===Mail ===
+
===Communications===
 +
The material below seems to have been written about Albania 20 years ago. In most cities Albania is like the rest of Europe. I lived there for nine months and had a great time and met some wonderful people.
  
Please see below for some correspondence options to share with relatives and friends.  
+
====Mail====
 +
International mail to and from Albania is somewhat slow and unreliable, but generally works. Both letters and packages are sometimes opened in transit and valuable items taken.
  
(by regular mail)
+
Packages are usually held by post office officials until you pay a customs fee. Letters from the United States usually take two to three weeks to arrive, while packages can take up to two months. Despite these issues, it is important to keep in touch with family and friends and share your experiences.
  
“Your Name,” PCT
+
Before you leave for Albania, the Peace Corps will send you a mailing address that you can use for letter mail during your first three months in the country—the period of pre-service training. Once you have been sworn in as a Volunteer and move to your site, you will have your own address for mail.
  
Cuerpo de Paz/Panama
+
====Telephones====
 +
Local telephone service is generally poor, and the installation of new phones and repairs can be extremely slow. Telephone lines sometimes disconnect in mid-conversation. Although it is expensive and often time-consuming to place international calls, direct dialing is available in many sites. Many communities in Albania have just a few phones that are shared by all residents. Cellular phone service is becoming more widely available, and most of the country is now covered by various providers. Many Albanians make sacrifices in order to have cellular phones, which are rather expensive. Calls from family and friends to a cellular phone in Albania may be the best way for you to keep in contact. Albania uses the standard European GSM cellular system, so most U.S. cellular phones will not work in the country.
  
Apartado 0834-02788
+
As part of Peace Corps Albania’s overall safety and security program, Peace Corps gives each trainee a cellular phone within a few days of arriving in the country, as well as a monthly allowance for phone time for emergency calls for health or safety and security. Trainees keep the phones after they become Volunteers and use them throughout their service. These phones can receive international calls at no charge to the trainee or Volunteer. You will need to keep your cellphone charged, on, and with you.
  
Panamá, República de Panamá
+
====Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access====
 +
It is unlikely that you will have access to a computer and highly unlikely that you will have access to the Internet at your assigned organization. If you already own a laptop, we advise you to bring it for personal and professional use and to insure it. Volunteers also find that a USB flash drive is a very useful tool for managing e-mail and sharing documents. The Peace Corps does not provide computer support (software, hardware, Internet access, repairs), nor will it replace damaged or stolen computers. Insurance is readily available, and the Peace Corps will provide you with an application for such insurance before you leave for Albania. Internet access in Albania is reaching more towns all the time, and Internet cafes are springing up in unexpected places. But you may have to walk across town or ride a bus for an hour or more to find an Internet cafe where you can read and send e-mail messages. You won’t have the access to the Internet that you may be used to and Internet use can be expensive, so you will have to adjust.
  
 +
===Housing and Site Location===
 +
Before you complete pre-service training, you will be assigned to a site in Albania where a workable match can be made between your skills and knowledge and the needs of a local organization and the community. Sites may be located anywhere in Albania outside of Tirana, and many are in smaller towns in the more rural areas, which are the areas of greatest need. The Peace Corps is striving to serve more of the northern areas of Albania. Due to the potential isolation in winter, the agency will consider assigning married couples or multiple Volunteers from different projects to these northern towns and villages. Housing can be scarce in Albania, especially in rural areas, and you may need to live with an Albanian family for your entire time in the country.
  
 +
You will live with a host family during pre-service training and then with another family for the first few months at your assigned site to help you become integrated into your community. The Peace Corps will assign you to a training family, and your assigned organization will help find you a host family at your site that meets Peace Corps standards.  The Peace Corps visits every host family to make sure that it understands its role and can meet your basic needs. After you have been at your assigned site for the required host family period and are well integrated into the community, you may search for independent housing if you wish, if it is available in your site. Independent housing must meet Peace Corps safety and security criteria as well as cost limitations. A Peace Corps staff member must check and approve any new housing situation before you move.
  
(by FedEx, UPS, etc.)
+
===Living Allowance and Money Management===
 +
The Peace Corps will provide you with a monthly living allowance in Albanian lek, the local currency. The living allowance amount is based on reviews of local living costs, as well as surveys of Volunteers already in the country. It is to be used to pay your host family for room and board, for recreation and entertainment, for a very limited amount of replacement clothing, for local transportation, and for reading materials and other incidentals. The Peace Corps expects you to live within the modest standards that most Albanians do.  
  
Peace Corps/Panamá American Embassy
+
In some cases, you will find that your living allowance is less than the income on which your Albanian colleagues live.  Many in Albania receive money from family members living and working abroad, helping them to afford extra luxuries.
  
Edif. 95, Ave. Vicente Bonilla
+
It can be challenging to explain to colleagues that you are a Volunteer and are in the country to serve while living on limited means, but this is part of the essence of the Volunteer experience. We discourage you from using personal money to supplement your living allowance. Albania is mainly a cash economy; there are no personal checking accounts and limited use of credit cards and traveler’s checks. There are an increasing number of ATM machines in the country that enable access to certain accounts in U.S. banks. It is advisable to bring some cash in Euros or dollars for vacation travel.  Traveler’s checks and credit cards are also an option for vacation travel outside of Albania.
  
Ciudad del Saber, Clayton
+
===Food and Diet===
 +
The availability of some vegetables and fruits in Albania is seasonal, but prices for locally grown produce are low.  Imported produce is usually available year round at higher prices. Local produce in summer is wonderful in Albania.  Salt, sugar, rice, flour, eggs, cooking oil, pasta, long-life milk, and other basic items are readily available and are of good quality. Fresh meat presents a problem, as inspections and refrigeration are minimal. Your host families during pre-service training and your first few months at site will help you find local foods in every season. In winter in some areas, only potatoes, cabbages, leeks, onions, oranges, carrots, apples, bananas, and rice or pasta may be readily available.  Vegetarians will have to be flexible, as many Albanian families will not know what it means to be a vegetarian and will want to serve you meat as an honored guest. Albanians do not use many spices in their cooking, so you may want to bring a supply of your favorite spices and some recipes that you can use with your host families.
  
Corregimiento de Ancón
+
===Transportation===
 +
Travel in Albania is an adventure, often a very slow one. Buses may be crowded and unreliable, and roads in poor condition are made more dangerous by the chaotic mix of vehicular, pedestrian, and animal traffic. Train service is limited to a few areas and is very poor. Most travel is by mini-buses, but some private cars and vans operate as taxi services among towns and villages. There were virtually no private cars in Albania prior to 1992, and Albanian drivers are learning as they go.  You will have to take delays and detours into account when planning your trips and travel with a trusted companion when possible to help ensure your safety. The difficulties of travel are a good incentive for staying at your site and becoming part of the local community. Traffic accidents are one of the highest probable risks here. To mitigate that risk, Peace Corps/Albania has a transportation policy that you will need to learn and follow.
  
Ciudad de Panamá
+
===Geography and Climate===
 +
Albania is located on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe, across the Adriatic and Ionian seas from Italy. It is bordered by Montenegro and Kosovo to the north, Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the southeast and south. It is a small, mountainous country with a narrow coastal plain. The climate is Mediterranean in much of the country, with four distinct seasons, though the rugged and broken mountains help to create microclimates. Summers tend to be quite hot and dry; and winters, very damp and cold in all parts of the country, including coastal areas. Winters can be very severe in the higher elevations, with snow on the ground throughout the winter. Layering your clothing is the best way to deal with the variable weather.
  
 +
===Social Activities===
 +
In the summer, the major source of entertainment in most towns is a daily promenade of the men up and down the main street where they socialize with friends and acquaintances.
  
 +
Women may join the promenade during the daylight hours, but disappear inside at dusk. In winter, entertainment comes primarily from visiting the homes of friends and acquaintances. Most other social activities revolve around the family. The first modern movie theaters did not appear in Tirana until late 1999. And while Tirana has several interesting museums, many provincial museums were damaged during the civil unrest in 1997. There are interesting historical and archaeological sites throughout the country, however. You will depend on your Albanian family and friends and your own creativity for most of your social activities.
  
República de Panamá
+
Public socialization between the sexes is uncommon in Albania outside of Tirana and a few of the larger cities.  When men and women are seen socializing together, the assumption is that they are married, engaged, or part of the same family. Male Volunteers will be freer to socialize in pubs and cafes than female Volunteers, particularly after dark. In many smaller towns, female Volunteers may patronize cafes only during the day or only with women friends. Female Volunteers who smoke or consume alcohol in public may be compromising their reputations and those of their host families, as well as their own safety.
  
Tel: 507.317.0038 Fax: 507.317.0809
+
All Volunteers should expect that opportunities for dating are limited, and that any dating that they do will be publicly scrutinized. All actions of individuals—Albanians and Volunteers alike—reflect on that individual’s family. Just as Volunteers are embraced and protected by host families as family members, their actions and public behaviors are also considered to reflect on the honor and respect of the family, as would those of any family member. Volunteers must accept and conform to this reality to successfully integrate into the local culture.  
  
Atentamente: Your Name
+
===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 as a professional, all at the same time. It is not an easy thing to do. You will be working in a professional capacity and will be expected to dress and behave accordingly. Stylish business casual is acceptable in most situations. Albanian fashion is influenced by Italian television programming and Spanish soap operas, and looking good matters. Albanians dress in their fashionable best in public even if the clothes are worn. A foreigner who wears ragged or unkempt clothing is likely to be considered an affront. Although you must dress professionally for work, there are times when you can wear shorts and T-shirts or casual clothing at your host family’s home.
  
 +
===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 that 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.
  
 +
Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment in Albania. Petty thefts and burglaries do happen, and incidents of physical and sexual harassment also occur, but Peace Corps Albania has experienced relatively few serious personal security incidents since the post reopened in 2003. 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 Albania. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your own safety and well-being. For example, one of your responsibilities will be to inform Peace Corps whenever you leave your assigned site.
  
Once you have been assigned to a site and sworn- in as a Volunteer, you will be responsible for sending your new address to friends and family. We recommend that you establish a regular pattern of communication with friends and relatives in the United States, since they may become concerned if they do not hear from you for an extended period of time. Mail service to or from Panama is fairly unpredictable—it can take 10 days to more than a month for a letter or package to arrive.  
+
===Rewards and Frustrations===
 +
The Peace Corps experience is sometimes described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys that occur as you adapt to a new culture and environment. The potential for being productive and satisfied with your service is high, but so is the probability of being frustrated. Your organization may not always provide the support you want, or it may not be sure about what it wants you to do. Living with a family in close quarters may be quite challenging. The pace of life and work may be different from what you expect, and many people will be hesitant about changing age-old practices. You will not be able to leave your site without informing Peace Corps in advance.
  
===Telephones ===
+
In addition, you will have a high degree of responsibility and independence—perhaps more than in any other job you have had. You will be in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your colleagues with little support or guidance from supervisors. You may work for lengthy periods without seeing any visible impact and without receiving any supportive feedback. Development is a slow process, and you must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
  
International phone service to and from Panama is good compared to many countries. Virtually all large cities have reliable phone service, and many small towns have public phones from which residents can make and receive calls for a fee. International calls are very expensive, so most Volunteers call home collect or use a calling card (such as those from Sprint, MCI, and AT&T), which can be used only in some locations. Some Volunteers will have a phone in their home during training or service; others will have to visit a nearby town to make a call. Cellular phones are widely available and reasonably priced, but many Volunteers live in places outside of their signal range. It may be more expensive to reprogram a cellular phone bought in the United States than to purchase one in Panama.  
+
You will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness to approach and overcome these difficulties. Albanians are a hospitable, friendly, and warm people, and Peace Corps staff members, your Albanian family, your coworkers, members of your community, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as moments of success. The peaks are well worth the difficult valleys and you are likely to leave Albania feeling that you have gained much more than you gave during your service. If you make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful and satisfied Volunteer. You will also have contributed to the overall mission of the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship.  
  
The phone number of the Peace Corps/Panama office in Panama City is 011.507.317.0038; the fax number is 011.507.317.0809.
+
[[Category:Albania]]
 
+
===Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access ===
+
 
+
Internet access in Panama is spreading. All provincial capitals and many other large towns have Internet cafés. Connection speeds tend to be slow, but the service is reasonably priced and otherwise reliable. Internet access for Volunteers is available free at the Peace Corps/Panama office. Some Volunteers can access the Internet in their homes, but this is the exception. A few Volunteers have computers of their own, but most do not. Computers are probably more useful for community economic development Volunteers than those in other projects. Laptops are preferable. If your site has no electricity, you will need batteries that are rechargeable using Peace Corps a solar panel. A voltage regulator is also a necessity. Generally, you will not know if your site will have electricity until later in pre-service training. Should you choose to bring a laptop, it is your responsibility to maintain and insure it; the Peace Corps is not liable if it gets damaged or stolen.
+
 
+
==Housing and Site Location ==
+
 
+
The small and medium-sized communities (populations of 300 to 10,000) in which Volunteers live and work are located 1 to 16 hours from Panama City. Like most Panamanians, Volunteers live in simple concrete-block houses with cement floors and corrugated tin roofs or wooden huts with dirt floors and palm thatch roofs, depending on the location of their site. Since living with a family provides special insight into Panamanian culture, improves language skills, and facilitates integration into the community, you must live with a host family during training and your first three months at your site.  After that, you may choose to live alone.
+
 
+
Indigenous communities generally have the most rustic living conditions, and they can be remote. Sometimes getting to a community may require at least a two-hour walk or a ride in a dugout canoe. Most houses in urban and highly populated areas have running water inside or outside the house. In some cases, it is necessary to boil water and add chlorine to make it safe to drink. In some rural sites, and in many indigenous communities, water must be obtained from springs or streams.  Many homes have a simple pit latrine, but latrine construction is often one of a Volunteer’s first activities. Electricity also varies depending on the site. You must be flexible in your housing and site expectations and willing to adapt to the discomforts that come with rural living.
+
 
+
==Living Allowance and Money Management==
+
 
+
During your first three months in Panama, you will receive a weekly allowance to cover the limited costs you will incur in your training community. Once you finish training and are sworn-in as a Volunteer, Peace Corps/Panama will open a bank account for you and deposit your monthly living allowance in U.S. dollars (which are used as the local currency) into this account. This allowance is intended to cover all your living expenses, including food, rent, work-related travel, some clothing, and other essentials and incidentals. You will also receive a one-time settling-in allowance to help buy household necessities such as a bed and kitchen supplies.  Some Volunteers maintain a bank account in the United States, but it is not necessary to do so, as Volunteers are expected to live at the same economic level as the people in their community. Peace Corps supports the idea of Volunteers not supplementing their incomes while in-country. Note that while Panama is inexpensive relative to the United States, it is expensive compared with many of its Central American neighbors. Prices in Panama City are comparable to those in the United States.
+
 
+
==Food and Diet ==
+
 
+
The Panamanian diet varies according to the region and the ethnic makeup of the population but most often consists of rice, beans, bananas or plantains, yuca (cassava), and corn. Rice and beans (kidney beans, lentils, black-eyed peas) is the staple dish. Corn is served in many guises, but is usually ground, boiled, or fried. Sancocho is a traditional dish (somewhere between a soup and a stew) prepared with a variety of vegetables and chicken. An array of fruits is available in season in most rural areas, including mangoes, Peace Corps papayas, pineapples, avocados, oranges, and guanavanas (soursops). The availability of garden vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cucumbers varies according to the region and the season. The most common meats are chicken and beef, which are often deep-fried or stewed. These meats, when served to Volunteers, are often intended to express appreciation for their friendship or work. The rural poor rarely eat chicken and beef, and indigenous communities in particular customarily have a more limited diet that may consist primarily of boiled green bananas and root vegetables like yuca. Fish is available sporadically in coastal regions and riverside communities.
+
 
+
Most larger towns and cities have at least one restaurant that will be familiar to you, such as McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway, or Dairy Queen. Most also have supermarkets where you can buy a wide variety of foods and imported goods.
+
 
+
Some Volunteers are vegetarians, but few Panamanians follow these diets. Volunteers generally must make do with the food available at their sites, but they sometimes can buy food in Panama City or a provincial capital.
+
 
+
==Transportation ==
+
 
+
Most sites are served by regular public transportation, but Volunteers assigned to indigenous or very rural communities may also travel by boat, chiva (minibus or truck), horseback, or foot. Chiva transportation is generally reliable in the dry season, but may be more limited in the rainy season. When muddy road conditions limit access by chiva, some Volunteers have to walk for one or two hours to get to their sites.
+
 
+
For recreational travel, bus service is available from Panama City to almost all domestic destinations and places to the north through Costa Rica. Tourist destinations in Panama that are not reachable by bus are accessible by plane. International flights leave from Panama City and David.
+
 
+
==Geography and Climate ==
+
 
+
Panama has a tropical climate, so you should prepare for rain, heat, and humidity. However, the severity of these conditions differs according to the region: The higher elevations are cooler, the Caribbean coast in the north receives more rain and humidity, and the southern peninsula is relatively hot and dry.
+
 
+
==Social Activities ==
+
 
+
The most popular social activities in Latino areas usually are dances (bailes) with traditional típico music. Larger towns periodically invite bands to play and gather over two or three days to watch a bullfight (much less bloody than the Spanish version) or cantadera (a freestyle singing battle) and reconvene at night for a dance. Because of Panamanians’ willingness to share their culture, even Volunteers with no talent for dancing are likely to leave Panama knowing how to dance to típico. A common way to bring the community together in rural sites is a junta, in which people complete an activity such as build a bamboo or wooden house or harvest rice. Food and drinks (usually alcoholic) are provided to the participants, and festivities can last well into the night.  In Afro-Antillean areas, dances also are popular, though the styles of music are much more diverse. Probably the most popular date on every Panamanian calendar is Carnaval, the equivalent of Mardi Gras. For the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday, Panamanians gather in certain cities to celebrate under the sun and watch elaborate floats parade through the streets at night.
+
 
+
Formal social activities are less frequent in indigenous communities than in Latino areas. Elaborate dances are rare, and dancing is usually reserved for important community functions. Spontaneous get-togethers at people’s homes are probably the most common activity. Often, community meetings are the only occasion for which an entire community convenes.
+
 
+
The Peace Corps tries to place Volunteers near one another for support, so it is possible to socialize with fellow Volunteers. Beautiful beaches are plentiful, and outdoor activities are available almost everywhere. When visiting Panama City, Volunteers have numerous opportunities for diversion, such as movie theaters, coffee bars, restaurants, public basketball courts, and dance clubs.
+
 
+
==Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior ==
+
 
+
Wearing proper attire in Panama helps establish your professional credibility and reflects your respect for the customs and lifestyles of the people with whom you live and work. Remember that you will be judged by your appearance.  Neatness and cleanliness are very important in Panamanian culture, and Panamanians may be offended by an untidy appearance. Dress is less formal in rural areas than in the capital, but it is important to remember that you are a representative of the United States. It is especially important to dress appropriately on the job and when you meet with government or other officials. Leisure clothing can be worn in the privacy of your own home, but should not be worn for work or travel. When doing physical labor, you will need sturdy shoes and clothes that protect you from scratches and insect bites. For more specific clothing recommendations, refer to the packing list later in this book.
+
 
+
During all training activities and Volunteer service in Panama, you will be expected to observe Peace Corps/Panama’s guidelines for dress. Shirts and shoes must be worn at all times, and shorts may not be worn in professional settings, including the Peace Corps office. While dressy sandals for women are appropriate, men should not wear sandals during professional/ formal occasions, in accordance with local custom.
+
 
+
You will not need to change your entire wardrobe, but you should realize that U.S. citizens almost always stand out.  Because of Panamanians’ views of tattoos and body piercing, you will need to keep any tattoos and piercings out of sight (earrings for women are okay). Men with long hair may be met with suspicion, so it is advisable for male Volunteers to keep their hair relatively short. As a result of the previous U.S.  military presence in Panama, Army surplus pants, jackets, backpacks, and so forth should be left at home. All Volunteers will need work-specific clothing, which will vary by project sector, and casual clothing.
+
 
+
The following are some specific work clothing recommendations for people in each project:
+
 
+
*Those in community economic development should dress in business-casual clothing while working with businesses and government agencies. Men should wear pants with short-sleeved polo-style or button-down shirts. Women can wear pants, dresses, or skirts (slightly above the knee is fine) with nice shirts or blouses. Sneakers and flip flops are not appropriate for men or women during business meetings, but are appropriate for casual occasions.
+
*Those in community environmental conservation will sometimes work in the field, so a pair of good shoes, some work shirts, and long pants are necessary.
+
When working in schools, Volunteers should wear business-casual clothing. Flip flops are inappropriate and very short skirts and dresses should not be worn as they will attract unwanted attention.
+
*Those in sustainable agriculture and environmental health are likely to work in areas with a lot of mud and high humidity. These Volunteers will frequently work in the field, so work clothes are a necessity.  Some Volunteers wear hiking shoes; others wear non-insulated, knee-high rubber boots. Although Volunteers should wear business-casual clothing when attending meetings with agency partners or conducting seminars, people in very rural or indigenous communities tend to dress less formally than elsewhere in the country.
+
 
+
==Personal Safety ==
+
 
+
More 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, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most 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 Panama.  At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.njjjn 
+
 
+
==Rewards and Frustrations==
+
 
+
You must be sure that you are willing to commit yourself to two years of service in a foreign country, living in harmony with the local culture. You must also learn to be patient, as change comes very slowly. Many Volunteers have difficulty adjusting to the slow pace of life and work in Panama. You may have to repeatedly explain your role as a development worker to many people. You may encounter a lack of understanding or technical support from your community or agency partners. You may also be annoyed by frequent delays in almost every aspect of your work, by the lack of privacy, and by being perceived as a rich foreigner. You will be thoroughly briefed on these matters during training.
+
 
+
The romance and excitement of working in a developing country can wear off quickly. The obstacles to accomplishing one’s goals can be formidable. The key to satisfying work as a Volunteer is the ability to establish successful interpersonal relations at all levels, which requires patience, sensitivity, and a positive, professional attitude. Remember that while you are full of energy and motivation, you will be here for only two years. Your Panamanian colleagues will continue to work at the same jobs, probably for low pay, long after you leave, so they may not have the same level of motivation as you do. Immediate results will be hard to quantify. Much of the impact of the work you do will not become evident until after you leave Panama. Nevertheless, you will surely be rewarded with a great sense of accomplishment when activities are successful, whether small or large. The successes are well worth the difficulties. Volunteers’ presence in Panama is making a difference and has certainly contributed to improving the conditions in rural areas.
+
 
+
[[Category:Panama]]
+

Revision as of 09:30, 8 December 2015

Country Resources


As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania, 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 Albanian context. You will need to learn to live on far less money than you are now used to, give up most of your privacy, and adapt to different ways of socializing. You may not be able to go out of your house much after dark or have an opportunity for dating within your community. Women will have many more restrictions than men. You will come to Albania to assist people in their efforts to improve their lives, which will be difficult. It will be up to you to adjust to Albanian lifestyle and work practices—Albania is what it is and it won’t adjust to you. 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.

Communications

The material below seems to have been written about Albania 20 years ago. In most cities Albania is like the rest of Europe. I lived there for nine months and had a great time and met some wonderful people.

Mail

International mail to and from Albania is somewhat slow and unreliable, but generally works. Both letters and packages are sometimes opened in transit and valuable items taken.

Packages are usually held by post office officials until you pay a customs fee. Letters from the United States usually take two to three weeks to arrive, while packages can take up to two months. Despite these issues, it is important to keep in touch with family and friends and share your experiences.

Before you leave for Albania, the Peace Corps will send you a mailing address that you can use for letter mail during your first three months in the country—the period of pre-service training. Once you have been sworn in as a Volunteer and move to your site, you will have your own address for mail.

Telephones

Local telephone service is generally poor, and the installation of new phones and repairs can be extremely slow. Telephone lines sometimes disconnect in mid-conversation. Although it is expensive and often time-consuming to place international calls, direct dialing is available in many sites. Many communities in Albania have just a few phones that are shared by all residents. Cellular phone service is becoming more widely available, and most of the country is now covered by various providers. Many Albanians make sacrifices in order to have cellular phones, which are rather expensive. Calls from family and friends to a cellular phone in Albania may be the best way for you to keep in contact. Albania uses the standard European GSM cellular system, so most U.S. cellular phones will not work in the country.

As part of Peace Corps Albania’s overall safety and security program, Peace Corps gives each trainee a cellular phone within a few days of arriving in the country, as well as a monthly allowance for phone time for emergency calls for health or safety and security. Trainees keep the phones after they become Volunteers and use them throughout their service. These phones can receive international calls at no charge to the trainee or Volunteer. You will need to keep your cellphone charged, on, and with you.

Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access

It is unlikely that you will have access to a computer and highly unlikely that you will have access to the Internet at your assigned organization. If you already own a laptop, we advise you to bring it for personal and professional use and to insure it. Volunteers also find that a USB flash drive is a very useful tool for managing e-mail and sharing documents. The Peace Corps does not provide computer support (software, hardware, Internet access, repairs), nor will it replace damaged or stolen computers. Insurance is readily available, and the Peace Corps will provide you with an application for such insurance before you leave for Albania. Internet access in Albania is reaching more towns all the time, and Internet cafes are springing up in unexpected places. But you may have to walk across town or ride a bus for an hour or more to find an Internet cafe where you can read and send e-mail messages. You won’t have the access to the Internet that you may be used to and Internet use can be expensive, so you will have to adjust.

Housing and Site Location

Before you complete pre-service training, you will be assigned to a site in Albania where a workable match can be made between your skills and knowledge and the needs of a local organization and the community. Sites may be located anywhere in Albania outside of Tirana, and many are in smaller towns in the more rural areas, which are the areas of greatest need. The Peace Corps is striving to serve more of the northern areas of Albania. Due to the potential isolation in winter, the agency will consider assigning married couples or multiple Volunteers from different projects to these northern towns and villages. Housing can be scarce in Albania, especially in rural areas, and you may need to live with an Albanian family for your entire time in the country.

You will live with a host family during pre-service training and then with another family for the first few months at your assigned site to help you become integrated into your community. The Peace Corps will assign you to a training family, and your assigned organization will help find you a host family at your site that meets Peace Corps standards. The Peace Corps visits every host family to make sure that it understands its role and can meet your basic needs. After you have been at your assigned site for the required host family period and are well integrated into the community, you may search for independent housing if you wish, if it is available in your site. Independent housing must meet Peace Corps safety and security criteria as well as cost limitations. A Peace Corps staff member must check and approve any new housing situation before you move.

Living Allowance and Money Management

The Peace Corps will provide you with a monthly living allowance in Albanian lek, the local currency. The living allowance amount is based on reviews of local living costs, as well as surveys of Volunteers already in the country. It is to be used to pay your host family for room and board, for recreation and entertainment, for a very limited amount of replacement clothing, for local transportation, and for reading materials and other incidentals. The Peace Corps expects you to live within the modest standards that most Albanians do.

In some cases, you will find that your living allowance is less than the income on which your Albanian colleagues live. Many in Albania receive money from family members living and working abroad, helping them to afford extra luxuries.

It can be challenging to explain to colleagues that you are a Volunteer and are in the country to serve while living on limited means, but this is part of the essence of the Volunteer experience. We discourage you from using personal money to supplement your living allowance. Albania is mainly a cash economy; there are no personal checking accounts and limited use of credit cards and traveler’s checks. There are an increasing number of ATM machines in the country that enable access to certain accounts in U.S. banks. It is advisable to bring some cash in Euros or dollars for vacation travel. Traveler’s checks and credit cards are also an option for vacation travel outside of Albania.

Food and Diet

The availability of some vegetables and fruits in Albania is seasonal, but prices for locally grown produce are low. Imported produce is usually available year round at higher prices. Local produce in summer is wonderful in Albania. Salt, sugar, rice, flour, eggs, cooking oil, pasta, long-life milk, and other basic items are readily available and are of good quality. Fresh meat presents a problem, as inspections and refrigeration are minimal. Your host families during pre-service training and your first few months at site will help you find local foods in every season. In winter in some areas, only potatoes, cabbages, leeks, onions, oranges, carrots, apples, bananas, and rice or pasta may be readily available. Vegetarians will have to be flexible, as many Albanian families will not know what it means to be a vegetarian and will want to serve you meat as an honored guest. Albanians do not use many spices in their cooking, so you may want to bring a supply of your favorite spices and some recipes that you can use with your host families.

Transportation

Travel in Albania is an adventure, often a very slow one. Buses may be crowded and unreliable, and roads in poor condition are made more dangerous by the chaotic mix of vehicular, pedestrian, and animal traffic. Train service is limited to a few areas and is very poor. Most travel is by mini-buses, but some private cars and vans operate as taxi services among towns and villages. There were virtually no private cars in Albania prior to 1992, and Albanian drivers are learning as they go. You will have to take delays and detours into account when planning your trips and travel with a trusted companion when possible to help ensure your safety. The difficulties of travel are a good incentive for staying at your site and becoming part of the local community. Traffic accidents are one of the highest probable risks here. To mitigate that risk, Peace Corps/Albania has a transportation policy that you will need to learn and follow.

Geography and Climate

Albania is located on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe, across the Adriatic and Ionian seas from Italy. It is bordered by Montenegro and Kosovo to the north, Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the southeast and south. It is a small, mountainous country with a narrow coastal plain. The climate is Mediterranean in much of the country, with four distinct seasons, though the rugged and broken mountains help to create microclimates. Summers tend to be quite hot and dry; and winters, very damp and cold in all parts of the country, including coastal areas. Winters can be very severe in the higher elevations, with snow on the ground throughout the winter. Layering your clothing is the best way to deal with the variable weather.

Social Activities

In the summer, the major source of entertainment in most towns is a daily promenade of the men up and down the main street where they socialize with friends and acquaintances.

Women may join the promenade during the daylight hours, but disappear inside at dusk. In winter, entertainment comes primarily from visiting the homes of friends and acquaintances. Most other social activities revolve around the family. The first modern movie theaters did not appear in Tirana until late 1999. And while Tirana has several interesting museums, many provincial museums were damaged during the civil unrest in 1997. There are interesting historical and archaeological sites throughout the country, however. You will depend on your Albanian family and friends and your own creativity for most of your social activities.

Public socialization between the sexes is uncommon in Albania outside of Tirana and a few of the larger cities. When men and women are seen socializing together, the assumption is that they are married, engaged, or part of the same family. Male Volunteers will be freer to socialize in pubs and cafes than female Volunteers, particularly after dark. In many smaller towns, female Volunteers may patronize cafes only during the day or only with women friends. Female Volunteers who smoke or consume alcohol in public may be compromising their reputations and those of their host families, as well as their own safety.

All Volunteers should expect that opportunities for dating are limited, and that any dating that they do will be publicly scrutinized. All actions of individuals—Albanians and Volunteers alike—reflect on that individual’s family. Just as Volunteers are embraced and protected by host families as family members, their actions and public behaviors are also considered to reflect on the honor and respect of the family, as would those of any family member. Volunteers must accept and conform to this reality to successfully integrate into the local culture.

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 as a professional, all at the same time. It is not an easy thing to do. You will be working in a professional capacity and will be expected to dress and behave accordingly. Stylish business casual is acceptable in most situations. Albanian fashion is influenced by Italian television programming and Spanish soap operas, and looking good matters. Albanians dress in their fashionable best in public even if the clothes are worn. A foreigner who wears ragged or unkempt clothing is likely to be considered an affront. Although you must dress professionally for work, there are times when you can wear shorts and T-shirts or casual clothing at your host family’s home.

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 that 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.

Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment in Albania. Petty thefts and burglaries do happen, and incidents of physical and sexual harassment also occur, but Peace Corps Albania has experienced relatively few serious personal security incidents since the post reopened in 2003. 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 Albania. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your own safety and well-being. For example, one of your responsibilities will be to inform Peace Corps whenever you leave your assigned site.

Rewards and Frustrations

The Peace Corps experience is sometimes described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys that occur as you adapt to a new culture and environment. The potential for being productive and satisfied with your service is high, but so is the probability of being frustrated. Your organization may not always provide the support you want, or it may not be sure about what it wants you to do. Living with a family in close quarters may be quite challenging. The pace of life and work may be different from what you expect, and many people will be hesitant about changing age-old practices. You will not be able to leave your site without informing Peace Corps in advance.

In addition, you will have a high degree of responsibility and independence—perhaps more than in any other job you have had. You will be in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your colleagues with little support or guidance from supervisors. You may work for lengthy periods without seeing any visible impact and without receiving any supportive feedback. Development is a slow process, and you must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.

You will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness to approach and overcome these difficulties. Albanians are a hospitable, friendly, and warm people, and Peace Corps staff members, your Albanian family, your coworkers, members of your community, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as moments of success. The peaks are well worth the difficult valleys and you are likely to leave Albania feeling that you have gained much more than you gave during your service. If you make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful and satisfied Volunteer. You will also have contributed to the overall mission of the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship.