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

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===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.
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====Mail ====
  
===Communications===
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During pre-service training, you will receive mail at a post office near the training site (you will be given this address before you depart for overseas). Once you have moved to your assigned site, you will use your residence or workplace as a permanent mailing address. The Peace Corps office cannot accept mail for Volunteers except in extraordinary circumstances.  
====Mail====
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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.
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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.
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Mail from the United States usually takes two to four weeks to arrive at Volunteer sites. Advise your family and friends to number their letters so you will be able to tell when a letter has gone astray. Also tell them to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes.  
  
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.
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====Telephones ====
  
====Telephones====
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International telephone service is generally available throughout the Kyrgyz Republic, but it is expensive. Calling cards make calling the United States much easier because you can call the AT&T operator in Moscow (095.155.5042) and place the call directly. The time in the Kyrgyz Republic is 11 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (10 hours during Daylight Savings Time). Phone service within the Kyrgyz Republic is improving, but it can be a difficult experience, depending on factors such as the time of day and weather conditions. The national telephone agency has offices in all major cities and in some smaller towns, but if you are calling from outside Bishkek, it is sometimes difficult to secure a line.  
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.  
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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.  
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Most Volunteers take advantage of local Internet cafes to make international phone calls. This low-cost way of calling the United States is available in most urban areas throughout the country. Though the connection is not always the best, the service is by far the least expensive way of staying in touch with your family and friends.  
  
====Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access====
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There are two cellular companies in the Kyrgyz Republic, and more and more Kyrgyz are using cell phones, especially in the capital. However, coverage is spotty and unpredictable outside Bishkek.  
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.
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===Housing and Site Location===
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====Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access ====
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.
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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.
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The Peace Corps office has several computers with Internet access in its resource center that may be used by Volunteers when they are in the office on official business. In addition, Volunteers can access E-mail at Internet cafés in many of the larger towns in the Kyrgyz Republic.  
  
===Living Allowance and Money Management===
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===Housing and Site Location ===
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.
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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.
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Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic assigns Volunteers to the sites with the greatest need and to schools and organizations that demonstrate potential for making the best use of Volunteers’ skills. Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic has a mandatory three-month homestay policy and asks the sponsoring agency to provide the Volunteer with adequate, safe housing, which is paid for by the Peace Corps. The housing varies from site to site and is typically with a family or within a family’s compound.  
  
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.
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The housing will have simple basic furniture such as a bed, a table and chairs, a wardrobe or bureau for clothing, and access to a stove and a refrigerator. The Peace Corps will provide you with a water filter or distiller. In addition, because winters in the Kyrgyz Republic are cold and many heating systems are inadequate, the Peace Corps will also provide you with an electric heater. Still, you will probably need long underwear and will definitely need a warm sleeping bag, as electricity is not always reliable.  
  
===Food and Diet===
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You need to be very flexible in your housing expectations, as there is no guarantee that there will be an indoor toilet or that running water or electricity will be available continuously at your assigned site.  
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.
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===Transportation===
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===Living Allowance and Money Management ===
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.  
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The Kyrgyz Republic has a cash-based economy. There are now ATM machines in Bishkek, but few opportunities to use credit cards other than buying international plane tickets from a local travel agency or online. The rate of exchange between the dollar and the local currency, the som, has been stable in recent years, with the dollar losing value slightly to the som.
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As a Volunteer in the Kyrgyz Republic, you will live at the same economic level as your neighbors and colleagues. You will receive a modest monthly living allowance (deposited in local currency into a bank account you will open at your site) to cover food, utilities, household supplies, hygiene products, clothing, recreation and entertainment, local transportation, telephone calls, reading materials, and other personal expenses. The amount of this allowance may not seem like a lot of money, but you will find yourself earning more than many of your colleagues and supervisors.
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You will also receive a $24 monthly vacation allowance and a one-time settling-in allowance in local currency to purchase household items when you move to your permanent site. The settling-in allowance is intended to defray part of the costs of items such as cooking utensils, dishes, towels, and blankets.  
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Finally, you will be given a quarterly program travel allowance to support regional exchanges with other Volunteers and to travel to Bishkek to visit international organizations or meet with your program manager. This allowance is designed to encourage Volunteers to exchange knowledge, skills, and best practices about their primary and secondary projects with one another.
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===Food and Diet ===
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People in the Kyrgyz Republic eat a lot of meat and vegetables (e.g., potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions), with much of the food fried or boiled. There is a wide range of fresh food for sale in markets throughout the republic during the spring, summer, and fall, including meat, vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts. Oranges, bananas, and apples can be found in some parts of the country but are often expensive.  
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Fruits and vegetables are, of course, seasonal, but it is possible to be a vegetarian in the Kyrgyz Republic. A sufficient variety of food is available to maintain a healthy vegetarian diet, and previous Volunteers have been successful at doing so with a little advance planning. The markets have white, pinto, mung, and red beans; chickpeas and split peas; pasta; rice; and peanuts and other nuts. Cheese, eggs, and milk are available in many, but not all, markets, and potatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions can be found almost everywhere. Tofu is available in larger towns. The most difficult aspect probably will be the social pressure to eat meat, but with a little patience, most vegetarians have served their two years with few problems.
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===Transportation ===
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Because of safety issues, Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding on two- or three-wheeled motorized vehicles for any reason. Volunteers are not allowed to own or drive private automobiles or tractors. Road travel between oblasts after dark is prohibited. Road travel after dark within oblasts is strongly discouraged; Violation of these policies may result in the termination of your Volunteer service.
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Most Volunteers travel in the country in commercial vans (called marshrutkas), but some choose to pay more and hire long-distance taxis. Although the vans often do not operate on a set schedule, there is regular public transportation between cities. Travel by bus among cities is also available.  
  
 
===Geography and Climate===
 
===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===
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The Kyrgyz Republic borders Kazakhstan in the north and northwest, Uzbekistan in the southwest, Tajikistan in the south, and China in the southeast. The Tien Shan mountain range covers approximately 95 percent of the country, which is about the size of Nebraska. The mountaintops are perennially covered with snow glaciers.
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.
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The Kyrgyz Republic has four seasons, including very cold winters and hot, dry summers. The duration of each season depends on the region of the country. In the mountains, the temperature can drop as low as minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the rest of the country, winter is much like winters in the Midwestern United States, but without so much snow. The north is much colder than the south, with normal winter temperatures in the mid-teens to low 20s.
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===Social Activities ===
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Volunteers are expected to develop relationships with people in their communities and participate in the social activities available at their sites. Outside of Bishkek, there is little formal entertainment (e.g., the opera, theater, cinemas, etc).  Therefore, both the Kyrgyz people and Volunteers, especially in small towns and villages, spend much of their leisure time “guesting.” Guesting means being invited to a home for a meal; this could last up to five or six hours, depending on the time of day. As the only American, and often the only foreigner, present in a community, you will often be the guest of honor.
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Being a guest in a Kyrgyz home can be simultaneously rewarding and stressful. The local people, whether ethnic Kyrgyz, Uzbek, or Russian, are hospitable, charismatic hosts. This means that you, as the guest, will be constantly encouraged to eat and drink more and more. Although it can be difficult to convey to people you do not know well that you have had enough to eat or drink and that you do not want any more or need to go home, Volunteers find that they are better able to manage such situations as their language skills develop.
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Alcohol is prevalent in most social situations in the Kyrgyz Republic and can cause stress for Volunteers. Volunteers may regularly feel pressure to drink heavily when in new social surroundings either with their new Kyrgyz friends or with other Volunteers. The pressure to drink often eases as a Volunteer becomes better known, and many Volunteers abstain from drinking in their sites. Program managers and the safety and security and medical officers help Volunteers develop strategies to manage the pressure of alcohol consumption.
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The Peace Corps has policies and strategies that will help Volunteers assess and manage their use of alcohol.  Excessive use of alcohol may result in behavior that affects your performance, effectiveness, safety and credibility.  Inappropriate behavior resulting from alcohol abuse or the inability to carry out your assignment due to alcohol use is grounds for administrative separation from the Peace Corps.  Alcohol use has been a factor in injuries and assaults involving Volunteers in posts throughout the world, including the Kyrgyz Republic. The Kyrgyzstani judicial system considers use of alcohol as an aggravating factor in criminal cases.  Individuals with a history or predisposition for alcohol abuse should seriously consider whether the Kyrgyz Republic is an appropriate assignment for you.  
  
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.
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===Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior ===
  
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.
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People in the Kyrgyz Republic take pride in their personal appearance and tend to dress up both for social occasions and for daily activities and generally dress more formally than Americans. While most people cannot afford a large wardrobe—it is not unusual to see co-workers wear the same outfit two or three days in a row—wearing clean and ironed cloths is important. To gain the acceptance, respect, and confidence of Kyrgyz colleagues, therefore, it is essential that you dress and conduct yourself professionally. Professional dress is required in the workplace, which means mid-length or long skirts with blouses or dresses for women living in more rural or conservative areas of the country, and pressed chinos or dress slacks with jackets or sweaters for men. Dress shoes or boots are also essential. As it is the custom to take off your shoes before entering someone’s home, Volunteers might wish to bring with them shoes that easily slip on or off rather than ones with laces.  
  
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.  
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The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to behave in a way that will foster respect in their communities and reflect well on the Peace Corps and the citizens of the United States. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest and must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts.  You will receive an orientation on appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training.  
  
===Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior===
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===Personal Safety ===
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.
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===Personal Safety===
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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, being perceived as well-off, and alcohol abuse are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Some 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 Kyrgyz Republic 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 the Kyrgyz Republic. At the same time, you are expected to take ultimate responsibility for your own safety and well-being.  
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.
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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.
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===Rewards and Frustrations ===
  
===Rewards and Frustrations===
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Although the potential for job satisfaction in the Kyrgyz Republic is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support they promised. In addition, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and some people you work with may be hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience of adapting to a new culture and environment is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys.  
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.
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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.  
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You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress most often comes after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. 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.  
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To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. The Kyrgyz are warm, friendly, and hospitable, and the Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave the Kyrgyz Republic feeling that they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service. If you are willing to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.  
  
[[Category:Albania]]
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[[Category:Kyrgyzstan]]

Revision as of 09:33, 8 December 2015

Country Resources

Communications

Mail

During pre-service training, you will receive mail at a post office near the training site (you will be given this address before you depart for overseas). Once you have moved to your assigned site, you will use your residence or workplace as a permanent mailing address. The Peace Corps office cannot accept mail for Volunteers except in extraordinary circumstances.

Mail from the United States usually takes two to four weeks to arrive at Volunteer sites. Advise your family and friends to number their letters so you will be able to tell when a letter has gone astray. Also tell them to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes.

Telephones

International telephone service is generally available throughout the Kyrgyz Republic, but it is expensive. Calling cards make calling the United States much easier because you can call the AT&T operator in Moscow (095.155.5042) and place the call directly. The time in the Kyrgyz Republic is 11 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (10 hours during Daylight Savings Time). Phone service within the Kyrgyz Republic is improving, but it can be a difficult experience, depending on factors such as the time of day and weather conditions. The national telephone agency has offices in all major cities and in some smaller towns, but if you are calling from outside Bishkek, it is sometimes difficult to secure a line.

Most Volunteers take advantage of local Internet cafes to make international phone calls. This low-cost way of calling the United States is available in most urban areas throughout the country. Though the connection is not always the best, the service is by far the least expensive way of staying in touch with your family and friends.

There are two cellular companies in the Kyrgyz Republic, and more and more Kyrgyz are using cell phones, especially in the capital. However, coverage is spotty and unpredictable outside Bishkek.

Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access

The Peace Corps office has several computers with Internet access in its resource center that may be used by Volunteers when they are in the office on official business. In addition, Volunteers can access E-mail at Internet cafés in many of the larger towns in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Housing and Site Location

Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic assigns Volunteers to the sites with the greatest need and to schools and organizations that demonstrate potential for making the best use of Volunteers’ skills. Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic has a mandatory three-month homestay policy and asks the sponsoring agency to provide the Volunteer with adequate, safe housing, which is paid for by the Peace Corps. The housing varies from site to site and is typically with a family or within a family’s compound.

The housing will have simple basic furniture such as a bed, a table and chairs, a wardrobe or bureau for clothing, and access to a stove and a refrigerator. The Peace Corps will provide you with a water filter or distiller. In addition, because winters in the Kyrgyz Republic are cold and many heating systems are inadequate, the Peace Corps will also provide you with an electric heater. Still, you will probably need long underwear and will definitely need a warm sleeping bag, as electricity is not always reliable.

You need to be very flexible in your housing expectations, as there is no guarantee that there will be an indoor toilet or that running water or electricity will be available continuously at your assigned site.

Living Allowance and Money Management

The Kyrgyz Republic has a cash-based economy. There are now ATM machines in Bishkek, but few opportunities to use credit cards other than buying international plane tickets from a local travel agency or online. The rate of exchange between the dollar and the local currency, the som, has been stable in recent years, with the dollar losing value slightly to the som.

As a Volunteer in the Kyrgyz Republic, you will live at the same economic level as your neighbors and colleagues. You will receive a modest monthly living allowance (deposited in local currency into a bank account you will open at your site) to cover food, utilities, household supplies, hygiene products, clothing, recreation and entertainment, local transportation, telephone calls, reading materials, and other personal expenses. The amount of this allowance may not seem like a lot of money, but you will find yourself earning more than many of your colleagues and supervisors.

You will also receive a $24 monthly vacation allowance and a one-time settling-in allowance in local currency to purchase household items when you move to your permanent site. The settling-in allowance is intended to defray part of the costs of items such as cooking utensils, dishes, towels, and blankets.

Finally, you will be given a quarterly program travel allowance to support regional exchanges with other Volunteers and to travel to Bishkek to visit international organizations or meet with your program manager. This allowance is designed to encourage Volunteers to exchange knowledge, skills, and best practices about their primary and secondary projects with one another.

Food and Diet

People in the Kyrgyz Republic eat a lot of meat and vegetables (e.g., potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions), with much of the food fried or boiled. There is a wide range of fresh food for sale in markets throughout the republic during the spring, summer, and fall, including meat, vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts. Oranges, bananas, and apples can be found in some parts of the country but are often expensive.

Fruits and vegetables are, of course, seasonal, but it is possible to be a vegetarian in the Kyrgyz Republic. A sufficient variety of food is available to maintain a healthy vegetarian diet, and previous Volunteers have been successful at doing so with a little advance planning. The markets have white, pinto, mung, and red beans; chickpeas and split peas; pasta; rice; and peanuts and other nuts. Cheese, eggs, and milk are available in many, but not all, markets, and potatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions can be found almost everywhere. Tofu is available in larger towns. The most difficult aspect probably will be the social pressure to eat meat, but with a little patience, most vegetarians have served their two years with few problems.

Transportation

Because of safety issues, Peace Corps/Kyrgyz Republic prohibits Volunteers from driving or riding on two- or three-wheeled motorized vehicles for any reason. Volunteers are not allowed to own or drive private automobiles or tractors. Road travel between oblasts after dark is prohibited. Road travel after dark within oblasts is strongly discouraged; Violation of these policies may result in the termination of your Volunteer service.

Most Volunteers travel in the country in commercial vans (called marshrutkas), but some choose to pay more and hire long-distance taxis. Although the vans often do not operate on a set schedule, there is regular public transportation between cities. Travel by bus among cities is also available.

Geography and Climate

The Kyrgyz Republic borders Kazakhstan in the north and northwest, Uzbekistan in the southwest, Tajikistan in the south, and China in the southeast. The Tien Shan mountain range covers approximately 95 percent of the country, which is about the size of Nebraska. The mountaintops are perennially covered with snow glaciers.

The Kyrgyz Republic has four seasons, including very cold winters and hot, dry summers. The duration of each season depends on the region of the country. In the mountains, the temperature can drop as low as minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. In the rest of the country, winter is much like winters in the Midwestern United States, but without so much snow. The north is much colder than the south, with normal winter temperatures in the mid-teens to low 20s.

Social Activities

Volunteers are expected to develop relationships with people in their communities and participate in the social activities available at their sites. Outside of Bishkek, there is little formal entertainment (e.g., the opera, theater, cinemas, etc). Therefore, both the Kyrgyz people and Volunteers, especially in small towns and villages, spend much of their leisure time “guesting.” Guesting means being invited to a home for a meal; this could last up to five or six hours, depending on the time of day. As the only American, and often the only foreigner, present in a community, you will often be the guest of honor.

Being a guest in a Kyrgyz home can be simultaneously rewarding and stressful. The local people, whether ethnic Kyrgyz, Uzbek, or Russian, are hospitable, charismatic hosts. This means that you, as the guest, will be constantly encouraged to eat and drink more and more. Although it can be difficult to convey to people you do not know well that you have had enough to eat or drink and that you do not want any more or need to go home, Volunteers find that they are better able to manage such situations as their language skills develop.

Alcohol is prevalent in most social situations in the Kyrgyz Republic and can cause stress for Volunteers. Volunteers may regularly feel pressure to drink heavily when in new social surroundings either with their new Kyrgyz friends or with other Volunteers. The pressure to drink often eases as a Volunteer becomes better known, and many Volunteers abstain from drinking in their sites. Program managers and the safety and security and medical officers help Volunteers develop strategies to manage the pressure of alcohol consumption.

The Peace Corps has policies and strategies that will help Volunteers assess and manage their use of alcohol. Excessive use of alcohol may result in behavior that affects your performance, effectiveness, safety and credibility. Inappropriate behavior resulting from alcohol abuse or the inability to carry out your assignment due to alcohol use is grounds for administrative separation from the Peace Corps. Alcohol use has been a factor in injuries and assaults involving Volunteers in posts throughout the world, including the Kyrgyz Republic. The Kyrgyzstani judicial system considers use of alcohol as an aggravating factor in criminal cases. Individuals with a history or predisposition for alcohol abuse should seriously consider whether the Kyrgyz Republic is an appropriate assignment for you.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

People in the Kyrgyz Republic take pride in their personal appearance and tend to dress up both for social occasions and for daily activities and generally dress more formally than Americans. While most people cannot afford a large wardrobe—it is not unusual to see co-workers wear the same outfit two or three days in a row—wearing clean and ironed cloths is important. To gain the acceptance, respect, and confidence of Kyrgyz colleagues, therefore, it is essential that you dress and conduct yourself professionally. Professional dress is required in the workplace, which means mid-length or long skirts with blouses or dresses for women living in more rural or conservative areas of the country, and pressed chinos or dress slacks with jackets or sweaters for men. Dress shoes or boots are also essential. As it is the custom to take off your shoes before entering someone’s home, Volunteers might wish to bring with them shoes that easily slip on or off rather than ones with laces.

The Peace Corps expects Volunteers to behave in a way that will foster respect in their communities and reflect well on the Peace Corps and the citizens of the United States. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest and must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts. You will receive an orientation on appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training.

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, being perceived as well-off, and alcohol abuse are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Some 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 Kyrgyz Republic 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 the Kyrgyz Republic. At the same time, you are expected to take ultimate responsibility for your own safety and well-being.

Rewards and Frustrations

Although the potential for job satisfaction in the Kyrgyz Republic is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support they promised. In addition, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and some people you work with may be hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience of adapting to a new culture and environment is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys.

You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress most often comes after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.

To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. The Kyrgyz are warm, friendly, and hospitable, and the Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave the Kyrgyz Republic feeling that they have gained much more than they sacrificed during their service. If you are willing to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.