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For the official Welcome Book for Thailand see here
PEACE CORPS / THAILAND HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Thailand
Thailand was one of the first countries to receive Peace Corps Volunteers, the first of whom arrived in 1962. More than 7,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Thailand. Projects in early decades covered many areas, such as secondary and university teaching in English and other subjects, work in agriculture and fisheries, primary healthcare, malaria control, and soil and water conservation.
As Thailand has changed over the past four decades, the Royal Thai Government’s requests for assistance have changed. In 1997, the Peace Corps was invited to assist with primary-school educational reform, an area identified by Thais as one of the most important in the country today.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Thailand
From 1997 to 2003, the single Peace Corps/Thailand program was an integrated education and community outreach (IECO) project. This project was substantially redesigned in 2002 and is now called the teacher collaboration and community outreach (TCCO) project. In accordance with the Thai government’s educational reform initiative, this project seeks to strengthen the skills of primary-school teachers in using student-centered methodologies and in teaching integrated subjects by partnering with teachers inside and outside the classroom. Volunteers assigned to this project also contribute to other areas in which they have interest and expertise, doing outreach in health, the environment, and other areas of community development.
In 2003, Peace Corps/Thailand and its Royal Thai Government partners collaborated to establish a new organizational development and capacity-building project. Volunteers in the community-based organizational development (CBOD) project are assigned to sub-district administrative office (SAOs). The CBOD project covers a wide range of development activities that respond to the needs of local communities. Volunteers in this project assist SAO staff and community groups in improving data collection, strengthening project management, and acquiring other skills that will help them initiate and carry out sustainable solutions to community priorities. Volunteers and their Thai partners also identify ways to share promising practices and resources with other SAOs and community groups.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: THAILAND AT A GLANCE
Thailand is a history buff’s paradise. The best-known parts of Thai history are the stories of its great kings and the kingdoms they established as they moved southward toward the Gulf of Thailand. Also well-known are these kings’ struggles with kingdoms in what are now the neighboring countries of Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The current Chakkri Dynasty was established in 1782. The fourth and fifth kings of this dynasty, King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn, are particularly remembered for their many achievements in the cultural realm and in affairs of state. In fact, some argue that their statesmanship prevented European powers from colonizing Thailand.
A constitutional monarchy was established in 1932, and the process of achieving a fully democratic society is still unfolding. The greatly revered current monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is the ninth king of the Chakkri Dynasty. The parliamentary system of government includes an elected House of Representatives and Senate. The prime minister is selected from among the members of the House.
Bangkok, the capital, has expanded rapidly over the past few decades. The greater metropolitan area (including Bangkok and Thonburi, on the opposite bank of the Chao Phraya River) has a population of more than 8 million. The country is divided into 76 provinces, which are further divided into districts, subdistricts, and villages. Efforts are currently being made to continue to delegate authority to lower levels of administration.
“In the waters there are fish; in the fields there is rice.” This favorite Thai saying captures the essence of Thailand as an abundant agricultural society for most of its history. Over the past several decades, a series of five-year national development plans have emphasized the manufacturing sector. Thailand’s economic growth was among the highest in the world until 1997, when the boom abruptly halted and poverty began increasing. Thailand has made remarkable progress in economic recovery in recent years, in spite of world events such as the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the bombing in Bali, the Iraq war, the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and the tsunami disaster in December 2004. Tourism and, more recently, the growth in electronics continue to fuel much of the economy. The Thai government is currently debating the country’s economic future, including the role of subsistence production, the growth of small- and medium-sized businesses, and ways to develop human resources to meet the challenges of the future.
People and Culture
Thailand’s unique cultural heritage has developed over more than 700 years of independence. Thais possess a strong sense of freedom (“Thai” means “free”) and are a fun-loving, friendly people.
The majority of the nation’s population is ethnically Thai and speaks one of the dialects of the Tai language family, including central Thai, northern Thai, northeastern Thai, southern Thai, and several others. Other ethnic groups include Chinese (the largest); Malays, located primarily in the four southern provinces; five major groups of hill tribes in the north; and people from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, many of whom originally came as refugees or economic migrants. Though Thais are 97 percent Buddhist, they have a high degree of tolerance for other religions. Other religions and doctrines present in Thailand are Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism, and animism.
The three pillars of Thai society are the nation, religion, and the monarchy, which are instilled into Thais throughout their lifetime. The key Thai values of generosity, loving-kindness, and smooth interpersonal relationships have served to promote the stability of the country and harmony among its citizens.
Thailand is a lush, fertile country, rich in flora, fauna, and natural resources. Bordered by Myanmar and the Indian Ocean to the west, Laos to the north, Cambodia to the east, and Malaysia and the Gulf of Thailand to the south, Thailand covers an area of 205,246 square miles (513,115 square kilometers), approximately the size of France.
The country can be divided into three main geographical regions: the central plain, which is traversed north to south by the Chao Phraya River and produces most of the country’s rice; the plateau and mountains of the north, noted for teak forests; and the southern peninsula, which is responsible for the principal export commodities of rubber and tin.
Thailand’s climate is tropical, with three distinct seasons. The weather is relatively cool from November to February, hot from March to June, and rainy from July to October. Humidity is generally high, and the average annual temperature in Bangkok is 84 degrees Fahrenheit, ranging from 80 degrees in December to as high as 100 degrees in the hot season.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Thailand and to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that although we try to make sure all these links are active and current, we cannot guarantee it.
A note of caution: As you surf the Internet, be aware that you may find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to express opinions about the Peace Corps based on their own experiences, including comments by those who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. These opinions are not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government, and we hope you will keep in mind that no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information About Thailand
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Bangkok to how to convert from the baht to the dollar. Just click on Thailand and go from there.
Visit this site for general travel advice about almost any country in the world.
The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Thailand and learn more about its social and political history.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments worldwide.
This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information, and each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political background.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the U.N.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about countries around the world.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
This site is known as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Web Ring. Browse the Web ring and see what former Volunteers are saying about their service.
This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts of their Peace Corps service.
This site was created by Volunteers in Thailand to share information such as lesson plans, icebreakers, and training materials.
- Cooper, Robert, and Nanthapa Cooper. Culture Shock! Thailand (rev. ed.). Singapore: Times Publishing, 1986.
- Cummings, Joe, and Steven Martin (eds.). Lonely Planet Thailand (9th ed.). London: Lonely Planet, 2001.
- Fieg, John P. A Common Core: Thais and Americans. Yarmouth, Maine: Intercultural Press, 1989.
- Hollinger, Carol. Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965.
- Klausner, William. Reflections on Thai Culture (4th ed.). Bangkok: Siam Society, 1993.
- Wyatt, David K. Thailand: A Short History. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986.
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, CA.: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, WA: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, NY: Picador, 2003.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, NY: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine (ed.) From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, CA: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Thailand has a relatively reliable postal system, and every subdistrict and district town has a post office. In addition to offering routine postal services, some offices are equipped with postal box rentals, overseas telephone facilities, and express mail services. Regular mail within Thailand usually takes two or three days, while express mail takes one to one-and-a-half days. International mail to and from Thailand takes about two weeks.
Your mailing address during training will be:
“Your Name,” PCT
242 Rajvithi Road
Bangkok 10300, Thailand
Only letters will be accepted at this address. Wait until you are assigned to your site and have packages sent to that address. Keep in mind that there are often high customs fees placed on packages, especially for electronics.
Public telephone booths that accept both coins (one baht for local calls) and phone cards are available in almost all towns. If a booth is not available, private homes often offer telephone facilities for a reasonable charge, typically a minimal flat fee plus the Telephone Authority of Thailand (TAT) per-minute rate, which depends on the destination and length of the call.
Cellphone systems in Thailand use frequencies of 800, 900, or 1800 megahertz, but 900 is the most effective for up-country sites. Other frequencies may not work in Thailand. Cellphones, which are quite popular in Thailand, can be purchased for as little as 2,000 baht (approximately $50). Trainees are given the funds to purchase a cellphone during training as it is a safety and security requirement. Volunteers regularly use text messaging to communicate with each other, their Thai friends, and with the U.S.
Approximately 60 percent of Volunteers live in housing with phones in place. The service charge is about 300 bahts per month (which does not include the cost of calls). When Volunteers move to their assigned sites after training, they complete an emergency contact form with their name, address, telephone number (or the number of the nearest neighbor), and a map to their home, which is kept in the Peace Corps office in Bangkok for emergency purposes.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Shops that provide Internet and e-mail access exist in cities throughout Thailand, even in rural districts. The cost for access is 15 to 20 baht (less than $1) per hour.
Most offices and schools have computers (but the majority do not have Internet connections), which are in use almost all the time. Most computers in Thailand are IBM or IBM compatible, though there a few Macintoshes. Many Volunteers bring laptops from home. Wireless Internet access (from your personal laptop) is becoming popular and is available in some of the bigger towns and cities. There are plenty of computer repair shops in Bangkok and most other large cities in Thailand. Should you decide to bring your own laptop, you are strongly encouraged to get it insured.
Housing and Site Location
In villages and small towns, where most Volunteers live, homes have electricity and indoor plumbing, including toilets and cold-water showers (occasionally a hand pump must be used to obtain the water). Drinking water must be either boiled or purchased, but is readily available. Other basic amenities (e.g., soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, lotion, sanitary napkins and tampons, towels, film, stationery, stamps, sodas, and instant coffee) should be available in provincial or regional centers, if not in your town. You should also be able to purchase items like an iron, rice cooker, or fan if desired.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer, you will receive a monthly living allowance. At the time of this writing, the monthly living allowance is 7,500 baht (approximately $187), which will be transferred to your bank account at the end of each month for the following month. Most Volunteers find this allowance to be more than adequate. Like Peace Corps Volunteers worldwide, those in Thailand are expected to live at a level commensurate with that of their Thai co-workers. This means that dinners out at expensive Bangkok restaurants or visits to spas designed for European tourists will not be possible. However, the allowance is certainly enough to enable you to purchase the basic necessities and to go to the movies or have a night out occasionally. Because you will receive your living allowance only once a month, you will have to budget wisely.
Access to a U.S. dollar account is possible throughout Thailand via ATMs with Cirrus or Star networks. Bring your ATM card and use those funds for vacations, etc.
Food and Diet
The food in Thailand is extraordinary. A popular joke is that Thais are either eating, talking about what they recently ate, or planning what to eat next.
The staple food is rice, so you will find a variety of rice (or noodle) dishes for all three meals. For example, you might have boiled rice with some type of meat for breakfast, fried rice or noodles with or without meat for lunch, and boiled white or brown rice with curry or stir-fried vegetables for dinner. Breads, rolls, and doughnuts are available in almost all convenience shops (including 7-Elevens and AM/PMs). In these mini-marts, Volunteers can also occasionally find cereals, spaghetti, and peanut butter. All kinds of vegetables and fruits are available year-round, and tofu can be found in most locations.
Food stalls in district towns offer reasonably priced cooked food and are open from early morning until late at night. Food stall vendors generally meet the Thailand Ministry of Public Health’s standards for sanitation and food handling.
Volunteers can cook for themselves, buying meat, rice, vegetables, and fruits from local fresh food markets at their site. Food is relatively cheap and can be purchased comfortably with the monthly living allowance. Vegetarians can also eat well in Thailand, but some may find it difficult to maintain a strict diet, especially in some social contexts.
The transportation system in Thailand is good and convenient. One can travel to and from sites to other towns, including Bangkok, via air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned buses or, on a few regional routes, by trains (with sleepers), or airlines.
Transport within towns is typically by covered pickups with two rows of seats or by bicycle. The Peace Corps provides a mountain bike and bicycle helmet to every Volunteer for travel to offices and schools, for errands, and for pleasure, and trainees and Volunteers are expected to be comfortable riding a bicycle for short to moderate distances. Car transportation arranged by a school or office is sometimes available to schools that are too far to reach by bicycle. Driving or riding as a passenger on a motorbike is strictly forbidden. Finding a consistent means of transportation can be a challenge, especially in the early months of service. Peace Corps will provide you with a monthly transportation allowance.
Geography and Climate
Thailand is a tropical country with generally warm weather (averaging 84 degrees Fahrenheit or 29 degrees Celsius). The heat peaks in March and April (to about 95° F or 35° C), with some cooler days in November, December, and January. The hotter months are followed by the rainy season, which can last from April to November. On most days the rains last from minutes to hours—they are not the typhoon-driven rains of some other tropical countries. A few Volunteer sites are located in the mountains of the north, where temperatures can drop to 59 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (15° to 20° C) in the cool season, which can feel rather cold in houses without insulation. Snow does not fall in Thailand.
You will spend much of your free time playing sports, eating, going to movies, attending Thai festivals and cultural events, and socializing with your Thai colleagues and neighbors. Dating as it is known in the United States will be noticeably absent. Your ability to adjust to and enjoy this kind of social life will be an important aspect of your success as a Volunteer.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
The following is a basic description of the dress and personal appearance standards expected of trainees. Although they may seem somewhat restrictive, they are designed to help you make the transition into your new Thai community and to maintain the good reputation of the Peace Corps. Upon first arriving in the country, you may have too little knowledge of Thai customs and beliefs to make informed decisions on appropriate dress. Following these dress standards will help you avoid unintentional offenses and incorrect assumptions on the part of Thais. Once you are at your work site, it will be up to you how you dress. By then you will have enough knowledge of Thai culture to make informed decisions.
You will hear references to riap roiy, a Thai term that means “appropriate and complete.” When used to refer to clothing, riap roiy means appropriate professional clothing, which in Thailand is very similar to what people in America wear as teachers or office workers. For men, this consists of a collared shirt, nice pants, a belt, and casual dress shoes. For women, it consists of a dress or skirt with a modest hemline (at or below the knees) and a blouse with a modest neckline and sleeves. If the blouse or skirt is sheer, a camisole or slip is necessary. If you follow these standards, you are unlikely to offend anyone in Thailand. It will also reduce the amount of unwanted attention you will receive. (For more information, see the packing list later in this book. You will be happiest if you bring clothes in your personal style that fit within these guidelines.)
Male Volunteers should know that long hair, beards and moustaches, and earrings are generally not worn by Thai men and are not appropriate, particularly in the rural provinces.
Multiple-pierced ears and body piercings are also not appropriate for either gender. Tattoos that are not discreet, especially for women, may also cause unwanted attention in rural areas of the country. If you have large tattoos, be prepared to wear clothing that will cover them.
Peace Corps/Thailand emphasizes community integration and intentional relationship building as the most effective way for Volunteers to enter and be accepted into Thai communities. Feedback from Thai counterparts and supervisors also indicates that the first three months at site are critical, and Volunteers need to be at their site as much as possible in order to be viewed as a community member. The first 30 days after being sworn-in, Volunteers cannot leave their site except for medical, and visitors are not allowed in the first three months.
Peace Corps/Thailand is very serious about Volunteer professionalism, as each Volunteer also has the responsibility to represent Peace Corps so that the image and reputation of the agency will meet the high standards that we are expected to maintain. It is disrespectful to the people of Thailand, to Peace Corps/Thailand and to fellow Volunteers to act or behave in any less than a professional manner. To be successful in Thailand you will need to develop good relationships. Trainees and Volunteers are expected to adhere to the following professional standards:
- Show respect for the people and culture of Thailand at all times.
- Observe local standards of behavior, dress, and protocol.
- Comply with policies that ensure your safety and security.
- Strive to integrate into your community and Thai society, spending more time with Thai colleagues and counterparts than with other Americans and expatriates.
- Consider learning the local language as an ongoing responsibility during your entire service.
- If you choose to drink alcohol, only drink in a socially appropriate, culturally respectable, sensitive, and safe manner, respecting yourself, your country, Peace Corps and the people of Thailand.
- Behave as a professional colleague of your Thai co-workers, other Volunteers and Peace Corps staff, resolving any differences through openness and respectful dialogue, avoiding gossip, rumor, or personalization of any conflicts.
- Be completely open and honest with Peace Corps staff about difficulties you face as a Volunteer or Trainee, enabling a collaborative approach towards resolution of any problems.
- Recognize that you are a co-owner of the Peace Corps Thailand public image, along with staff and the more than 7,000 Volunteers who have served in Thailand before you.
- Understand that as a development worker, you embrace a grass-roots, community-based approach to development, working to meet the needs and wishes of as many community members as possible.
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Thailand is a relatively safe country, especially in the provinces where Volunteers live and work; although petty crimes and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, most Thailand 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 Thailand. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
In addition to the emergency action plan described later in this book, Peace Corps/Thailand has an emergency contact system (i.e., a phone tree) for contacting Volunteers, which is tested periodically. Peace Corps/Thailand’s emergency action plan is coordinated with the U.S. Embassy. For reasons of safety, Volunteers in Thailand must obtain approval from the Peace Corps office in Bangkok for vacations, and Volunteers must also notify the office when staying overnight in a place other than their home. The office will ask for specific travel plans, including dates, hotel names, and telephone numbers.
Rewards and Frustrations
Most Volunteers find that the main challenges of service are not physical hardships or safety and security issues, but psychological stress caused by limited language, cross-cultural misunderstandings, and differences between Americans and host country nationals in values and expectations. Lack of structure in some situations and social pressure to fit into the role of guest, teacher, and official are issues for many Volunteers. While frustrating, these challenges present opportunities for tremendous learning.
PEACE CORPS TRAINING
Overview of Pre-Service Training
Pre-service training provides you with solid technical, language, health, safety and security, and cross-cultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes to prepare you for living and working safely and successfully in Thailand. Pre-service training is rigorous and demanding, and sometimes not all trainees qualify for Peace Corps service.
Peace Corps/Thailand’s training program is split into two parts. Part one (10 weeks) is community-based and prepares you to live and work safely and productively at your site for the first three to six months. We have successfully used a community-based training design since January 1997. In this training model, four or five trainees live and study in villages located a few kilometers from a central “hub” site in a larger town. Most language, cross-cultural, and technical sessions and activities occur in the training village. Throughout pre-service training, you will primarily ride bicycles to the hub site and small group training, where you will study with the larger group for one or two days.
You will live with a Thai host family in your training village, which will help you learn about and adjust to Thai culture and practice your Thai language skills. You will also take part in various cultural activities and excursions, visit a current Volunteer’s site, and visit your future permanent site.
Part two of pre-service training (10 days) occurs after you have been at your site for approximately three months. This is a time for Volunteers and their Thai counterparts to explore and share their initial experiences of working together.
You will be asked to identify technical, language, cross-cultural, and other topics about which you would like further training. Thailand Volunteers feel that the timing and structure of this part of training are invaluable.
Technical training will prepare you to work in Thailand by building on the skills you already have and by helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. Peace Corps staff, Thai experts, and current Volunteers will conduct the training program. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you have to the community in which you will serve as a Volunteer.
Technical training will prepare you and your Thai partners to accomplish project tasks and achieve project goals. This component will include sessions on your technical area as well as sessions on the environment, economics, politics, gender, youth, and community development in Thailand and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your project’s goals and will meet with the Thai agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them. You will be supported and evaluated by experienced trainers, and Peace Corps staff throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you need to undertake your project activities and be a productive member of your community.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills are the key to personal and professional satisfaction and effectiveness during your service. These skills are critical to your job performance, they help you integrate into your community, and they can ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings. Therefore, language training is the heart of the training program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer. Experienced Thai language instructors teach formal language classes six days a week in small groups of four to five people. The Thai language is also introduced in the health, cross-cultural, and technical components of training.
Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family. The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills further once you are at your site. Prior to being sworn in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your service.
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a Thai host family. This experience is designed to ease your transition to life at your site. Families go through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of pre-service training and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Thailand. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.
Cross-cultural and community development training will help you improve your communication skills and understand your role as a facilitator of development. You will be exposed to topics such as community entry, Thai versus American social values, gender and development, and political structures.
During pre-service training, the Peace Corps will give you basic medical training and information. You will expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. Session topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that you might encounter while in Thailand. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living compound, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also covered.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces your risks at home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides Volunteers with continual opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills. During your service, there are usually three training events. The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:
- In-service training: Provides an opportunity for Volunteers to upgrade their technical, language, and project development skills while sharing their experiences and reaffirming their commitment after having served for three to six months.
- Mid-Service conference: Assists Volunteers in reviewing their first year, reassessing their personal and project objectives, and planning for their second year of service.
- Close of service conference: Prepares Volunteers for the future after Peace Corps service and reviews their respective projects and personal experiences. The number, length, and design of these trainings are adapted to country-specific needs and conditions. The key to the training system is that training events are integrated and interrelated, from the pre-departure orientation through the end of your service, and are planned, implemented, and evaluated cooperatively by the training staff, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN THAILAND
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to health and medical issues. The Peace Corps in Thailand maintains its own health unit with qualified and experienced Peace Corps medical officers (PCMOs) and support staff to take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services such as diagnostics, evaluation, and treatment are also available at local, Western-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill or injured you will be transported either to a Thai medical facility (in Bangkok or the Provincial Hospitals where you serve) or to the United States.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in Thailand, you will receive a medical handbook. At the end of training before you leave the training site to travel to your job site, you will receive a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of this kit are listed later in this chapter.
During pre-service training, you will have access to basic medical supplies through the health unit. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs and any other specific medical supplies you require, as the Peace Corps will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use, since they may not be available here and it may take several months for shipments to arrive.
You will have physical exams at mid-service and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem or injury during your service, the Peace Corps health unit in Thailand will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Thailand, you may be sent back to the United States for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept considerable responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The most important of your responsibilities in Thailand is to take preventive measures, which include the following:
Adherence to recommended standards for food and water preparation. Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These illnesses including food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, tapeworms, and typhoid fever. The health unit will discuss specific recommendations for Thailand during pre-service training.
Prompt reporting to the health unit. Strict adherence to prevention techniques for vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever and malaria is extremely important. Significant illnesses, injuries, and any possible exposure to a rabid animal (through bites, scratches, or contact with animal saliva) must be reported to the health unit immediately. The PCMO will consider many factors in deciding the appropriate course of therapy necessary to prevent rabies. The PCMO will administer all necessary rabies immunizations.
Use of an effective means of birth control. Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Your PCMO can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the health unit.
Use of condoms to protect against the spread of AIDS and other STDs. Abstinence is the only certain choice for preventing infection with HIV/AIDS and other STDs. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risks, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country national, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV or other STDs.
Wearing a bicycle helmet. Most Volunteers own a bicycle and use it for getting around their communities. Peace Corps requires that Volunteers wear a helmet whenever they are on a bicycle. (Note: Volunteers are not permitted to ride on motorcycles. This infraction will be cause for immediate administrative separation from service.)
Other preventive health measures specific to your area of assignment will be discussed once you arrive in Thailand. Volunteers are expected to comply with all medical treatment and care recommended by the Peace Corps Health Unit or referral facilities.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions that require medical attention, but also have programmatic ramifications. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service during pregnancy can be met.
Feminine hygiene products are available throughout Thailand. Tampons are available in Bangkok and large cities. If you prefer a specific product, please bring a six-month supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps health unit provides Volunteers with a medical kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the health unit.
Medical Kit Contents
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic ointment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)
Iodine tablets (for water purification)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Oral rehydration salts
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Tinactin (antifungal cream)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, you should contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and take it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment, either at your predeparture orientation or shortly after you arrive in Thailand. You do not need to begin taking malaria medication prior to departure.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription or over-thecounter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, we will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment—which can take several months—you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or nonprescribed medications (e.g., St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, and antioxidant supplements).
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying a three-month supply of prescription drugs.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. The Peace Corps discourages you from using contact lenses during your service to reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses; in addition, the amount of dust in the air can irritate your eyes. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are more than 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you close your Peace Corps service, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age or preexisting conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Property thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again.
The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety and security information.
The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control.
Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).
- Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 43 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the evening between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.—with most assaults occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: Assaults ususally occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompannied and in 55 percent of physical assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:
- Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel
- Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
- Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
- Carry valuables in different pockets/places
- Carry a “dummy” wallet as a decoy
- Live with a local family or on a family compound
- Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk
- Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.
- Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
- Make local friends
- Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing
- Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
- Travel with someone whenever possible
- Avoid known high crime areas
- Limit alcohol consumption
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security; Information and Personnel Security; Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise; and Crime Statistics and Analysis.
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed. After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provide support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.
The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/ trainees in Thailand as compared to all other Europe, Mediterranean and Asia (EMA) region programs as a whole, from 2000–2004. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population.
It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps’ classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What If You Become a Victim of a Violent Crime
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 1.800.233.5874, or by e-mail at [email protected]
Security Issues in Thailand
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. As with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Thailand. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people know each other and generally will not steal from their neighbors. Tourist attractions in large towns, for instance, are favorite work sites for pickpockets and they present potentially inviting targets for terrorist groups, which are present in Thailand. As of April 2005, Volunteers in Thailand are restricted from traveling to the five southernmost provinces of Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkla, and Satun. This restriction may be lifted or expanded at any time the country director believes it is appropriate.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relationships in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In coming to Thailand, do what you would do if you moved to a new city in the United States:
Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Thailand may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention both in large cities and at their sites, but they are likely to receive more negative attention in highly populated centers than at their sites where “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them. Most people in Thailand will not bother you, but any unwanted attention can usually be reduced if you do not respond to it. In addition, keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch, the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs. And always walk with a companion at night.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer
Support in Thailand
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes the following: information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for addressing safety and security incidents. Thailand’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Thailand office will keep you informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be offered in the newsletter and in memorandums from the Country Director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, you will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Thailand. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout your two-year service and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection is based, in part, on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; housing options and living arrangements; and other Volunteer support needs.
You will also learn about Peace Corps/Thailand’s detailed emergency action plan, which is implemented in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, you will gather with other Volunteers in Thailand at predetermined locations until the situation resolves itself or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
Finally, in order for the Peace Corps to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps health unit. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to future Volunteers.
DIVERSITY AND CROSS CULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling its mandate to share the face of America with host countries, the Peace Corps is making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.
Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Thailand, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Thailand.
Outside of Thailand’s capital and other cities, many residents have had relatively little sustained exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles, though they may have had some contact with the many tourists who visit each year. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes.
The people of Thailand are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners. However, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Thailand, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Thailand
Although the majority of Thailand’s population is both Buddhist and ethnically and linguistically Thai, there are regional linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic differences. The presence of many non-Thai groups also contributes to the diversity of the country. Thais generally emphasize their commonalities and the strengths that diversity contributes to their country. When differences are expressed, it is generally in subtle ways that require linguistic and cultural understanding to grasp. Thais’ emphasis on tolerance, maintaining smooth relationships, and a sense of order creates a generally welcome environment for Volunteers.
Despite the ideal of social harmony, there are some conflicts, which are readily apparent in the tabloid press. Thailand’s social structure includes an inherent hierarchy, with competing beliefs about who is entitled to what. Thais often attempt to hide conflict from guests, something you may experience with your colleagues. Nevertheless, Thais manage to find extraordinarily beautiful ways to maintain harmony in the face of diversity, many of which you will no doubt find intriguing.
The Peace Corps staff in Thailand recognizes the adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Thai hospitality is legendary. You are unlikely to experience direct confrontation if you practice the basic do’s and don’ts introduced in pre-service training and balance your needs with those of your Thai co-workers and community members. Of course, the Peace Corps cannot control every host country national’s treatment of you, nor would you want such intrusion. You should be able to handle most situations on your own. Some Volunteers may experience blatant bigotry, but subtle discrimination is more common. Part of your role as a Volunteer is to promote, through your actions and behavior, a more thorough understanding of the United States and Americans among the people in your community.
Thai people are very direct in regards to physical appearance in a manner that may be considered rude by American standards. Volunteers should expect to hear comments about their height, weight, hair, etc.
The following information is provided to help you prepare for challenges you may encounter in Thailand based on your gender, ethnic or racial background, age, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or disabilities.
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
In recent years, the proportion of female Volunteers in Thailand has reached close to 75 percent, including those who are married. Most female Volunteers experience a high degree of security in their communities and when they travel within the country. Physical harassment is not common, but precautions still need to be taken. The higher status of men compared with women can manifest in both subtle and not-sosubtle ways. For example, women are often expected to take on more work than men are, and they often do so. This can be frustrating for both female and male Volunteers. Additionally, young females may face an uphill battle to gain the respect of their male Thai counterparts as age and experience is often valued over youth and enthusiasm—especially for women.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Many Thais are not well-informed about the ethnic and racial diversity of the United States, and they therefore expect Volunteers to be Caucasian. In addition, many Thais view lighter skin as more beautiful, a perception based more on an aesthetic bias than any racial prejudice and one that existed long before encounters between Thailand and the West. African-American Volunteers, in particular, should not take Thais’ views of skin color personally and should try to see them within this context. In addition, people in villages may have a difficult time seeing some people of color as Americans.
Unfortunately, in recent years, heroin smugglers have used West-African nationals to smuggle drugs out of Thailand, which has led to a belief among some Thais that American blacks are Africans who smuggle drugs. Fortunately, professional and personal relationships between African-American Volunteers and their Thai counterparts have broken down these stereotypes.
It is common for Asian Americans to be mistaken for Thais, which can have both benefits and drawbacks. One advantage is that Asian Americans blend better into the community and thus may not receive as much unwanted attention in public. A disadvantage is that Thais may initially expect you to have the language skills of a native speaker. Thai friends told one Asian-American Volunteer that they were disappointed they did not get a “real American” as they had requested. This Volunteer also felt that her Thai co-workers initially valued her less than they valued Caucasian Volunteers because they thought an Asian American was not very different from a Thai. But once people know you are not Thai, you are likely receive the same celebrity treatment that most foreigners receive in Thailand.
If you are an Asian American, Thais may ask you about your ethnic origin, wanting to know the country of your ancestors. Thailand is home to many Asian minority groups related to contemporary Chinese, Burmese, Khmer, and Lao peoples, many of whom lived in the area before there was a distinct country known as Siam (later Thailand). The small Vietnamese population arrived primarily in the 1950s, and most have remained in the northeastern Thai towns and cities where they took refuge.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
Thai government workers are subject to a mandatory retirement age of 60 (with exceptions for some with specialized skills), so Volunteers over 60 will have Thai coworkers who are younger than they are. Thais give great respect and importance to senior family members, and senior Volunteers often receive similar deference and respect, though this does not necessarily translate to greater respect for their professional competence or technical knowledge. Your co-workers may smile, nod, and appear to agree with you when the opposite is true, perhaps because they do not want to offend you.
Although more seniors are joining the Peace Corps nowadays, most of your fellow trainees are likely to be under age 30, and the Thai training staff is largely composed of recent college graduates. Generally, seniors are warmly accepted by other trainees; still, there may be times when you miss interacting with people of your own age, especially in social situations.
The Thai language trainers recognize the different learning styles and needs of seniors and will endeavor to provide the most suitable training for older trainees.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Thais do not usually view bisexuality and homosexuality as sinful or unnatural, nor are there criminal penalties against sexual acts between members of the same sex. However, some bisexual and homosexual Volunteers have found it necessary to adjust their behavior to be effective in their jobs and respected by members of their communities. Most choose to remain “in the closet” to Thai friends and co-workers at their sites.
Physical contact in public between members of the same sex (such as linking arms while walking down the street) is a common way for Thais to show affection, and it is important for Volunteers to realize that such displays of affection likely are nonsexual in nature. Volunteers who are accustomed to being part of a large gay community in the United States may not get the support to which they are accustomed. However, gay communities do exist in urban centers such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and you will probably find significant support within the Peace Corps community.
All women will have to deal with questions or teasing about boyfriends, marriage, and sex. All men will have to deal with questions about American women and girl watching and may be pressured by co-workers to visit brothels. During pre-service training, trainees are encouraged to think through these issues and plan possible responses.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
A high degree of religious tolerance exists in Thailand. It is doubtful that any religious issues will arise, unless one breaks the Peace Corps’ prohibition against proselytizing by Volunteers.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
Thais’ respect for others extends to individuals with disabilities, and the country has made efforts to help disabled individuals have productive jobs and lives. One example is the tradition of blind masseuses and masseurs in Thailand. In addition, schools are beginning to mainstream those with disabilities into regular classrooms.
Volunteers with disabilities need to be aware of the rigors of the Peace Corps/Thailand program during both training and service. Trainees and Volunteers are expected to arrange their own transportation to the various training venues and workplaces. Any special accommodations needed during training and when at one’s site, such as an alternative to travel by bicycle, should be made known during the placement process in the United States, prior to arrival in Thailand.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Thailand and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. Although you can get almost everything you need in Thailand, underwear, clothes and shoes in larger sizes may be hard to find here.
One strategy is to pack a box or two with items you probably will not need until after training and arrange for someone to send the boxes to you by surface mail once you get to your site.
Riap roiy (appropriate and complete) professional dress for men consists of nondenim pants such as chinos or Dockers, collared shirts (long- or short-sleeved button-down shirts or polo shirts) in conservative colors and patterns, and casual dress shoes. Professional dress for women consists of knee-length or longer dresses or skirts and blouses (Thai women rarely wear pants to the office). A slip or camisole should be worn under sheer material, and blouses should have sleeves and modest necklines. If a dress is not form-fitting, people may ask you if you are pregnant, so wearing a belt is recommended. Revealing one’s upper thighs, stomach, shoulders, and cleavage is generally frowned upon, even outside a work setting. All clothing should be clean and neatly pressed. Shoes for work should have a back strap. Note that all-black outfits are generally worn only while in mourning.
For both men and women, T-shirts and jeans are fine to wear after hours, and shorts (preferably ones that reach the knee) are fine to wear when working out. Thais do not generally wear shorts in public except in very relaxed situations. Tank tops are not recommended for women. When you are in your own home, however, what you wear is up to you.
- Two or three pairs of lightweight pants (jeans can be hot, but bring them if you like them because they are expensive to buy here)
- Two or three pairs of knee-length shorts
- Four to seven short-sleeve shirts
- Sweatshirt or fleece top (it can get chilly in the cold season)
- One or two sweaters
- One heavy jacket
- One windbreaker or raincoat
- Three to five pairs of socks
- One or two belts
- Athletic clothes—if you work out
- Baseball cap or other hat
- Four or five work outfits (see description above)
- Bathing suit (a one-piece is best)
- Lots of underwear in breathable fabrics
- Five or six dress shirts
- Four or five casual dress pants
- Two or three pairs of lightweight pants (jeans can be hot)
- Two or three pairs of knee-length shorts
- One or two neckties
- Underwear (cotton is recommended)
- Bathing trunks (Speedo-style swimsuits are not recommended) Shoes
(Note: It is customary and expected that shoes are removed before entering a house and some offices (including the Peace Corps Office in Bangkok. Lace-up shoes and boots are not recommended.)
- One pair of dress shoes (loafer style for men and pumps or low heel closed toe shoes with back strap for women) for work and on occasions such as meetings with government officials, funerals, your swearing in ceremony, etc.)
- One pair of sport sandals (e.g., Tevas)
- One pair of athletic shoes
- One or two pairs of slip-on shoes (you will often have to take off your shoes before entering a building)
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- Contact lens supplies (these are available in big cities)
- Solid deodorant (only roll-on is available here)
- Cosmetics (they are expensive here)
- Tampons (local selection is limited)
- Athletic supports and braces if you need them
- Universal sink stopper (for washing clothes in the sink when traveling)
- Travel towel (towels are readily available here, but you may want a travel towel that is compact and packable)
- Small backpack for weekend travel
- Guidebook about Thailand (e.g., Lonely Planet)
- Three-month supply of prescription medications
- Second pair of prescription eyeglasses
- Swiss army knife
- Small flashlight
- Games (e.g., Scrabble and Uno)
- Photos of your life in the United States to show to Thai friends
- Souvenirs from home to give as gifts (e.g. magazines coins, postcards, stamps, cool pens, etc.)
- Walkman/iPod-type device (with microphone for recording)
- A voltage converter—if you are bringing any electronics
- Collapsible umbrella
- Contact information for resources in America (former employers, school loan information, colleges, organizations, etc.), which can useful for obtaining materials during service or for applying for jobs near the end of service
- Credit card (Visa is the most widely accepted), ATM card, and/or traveler’s checks
- USB pen drive/micro-storage device (for copying and sharing computer files 0
The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to live outside the United States for two years. Not all items will be relevant to everyone, and the list does not include everything you should make arrangements for.
- Notify family that they can call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; after-hours duty officer: 202.638.2574).
- Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front handbook to family and friends.
- Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for the Peace Corps passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain a personal passport if you plan to travel after your service ends. (Your Peace Corps passport will expire three months after you finish your service, so if you plan to travel longer, you will need a regular passport.)
- Complete any needed dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pairs.
- Arrange to bring a six-month supply of all medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while you are away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your health care during Peace Corps service overseas, it is advisable for people who have preexisting conditions to arrange for the continuation of their supplemental health coverage. If there is a lapse in coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated.)
- Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas.
- Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas.
- Purchase personal property insurance to extend from the time you leave your home for service overseas until the time you complete your service and return to the United States.
- Obtain student loan deferment forms from the lender or loan service.
- Execute a power of attorney for the management of your property and business.
- Arrange for deductions from your readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other debts through Volunteer Financial Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770.
- Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.