Can I Still Be Me?
The Peace Corps experience has a number of built-in dilemmas, but none more significant than the question of how one adjusts to a different culture and still maintains one's own values, identity and self-respect. On occasion, the behavior expected of you by the local culture may conflict with your own personal values and beliefs. Do you adopt the behavior and think less of yourself, or do you resist it and risk being considered insensitive? Fortunately, in many cases, it is not an either/or choice, but when it seems to be, what do you do?
Reading, reflecting and commenting on the incidents below, which could happen in any culture, may help you handle such situations. You also may want to talk with one or two PCVs to find out what they have done in similar circumstances, how they managed to be culturally sensitive and true to themselves at the same time.
You are a female PCV working as an environmental educator in a government ministry. You work under an older host country man who is much less technically competent than you. At staff meetings, you routinely outshine this man, which has begun to cause him acute discomfort. Today he has asked you not to speak at these meetings and especially not to contradict or disagree with him when he speaks, even (and especially) if what he says is incorrect. What should you do?
Part of your job as a PCV urban planner is to review and sign off on staff draftsmen's drawings before they are sent on to higher management. Your division has just hired a new draftsman who is incompetent but is a cousin of the head of this division,. Tomorrow you will be reviewing the first of his drawings, and this afternoon your supervisor has called you into her office. She says you can expect these drawings to be of an unacceptable quality but asks you to approve them anyway. She doesn't want any trouble with her boss or to unnecessarily embarrass the young man. How should you respond?
You teach school in a rural part of your country. You eat your meals at a local tea shop run by a low-caste family with whom you have become very friendly. Today the headmaster of your school has approached you and advised you to stop eating at this place. He says it hurts your social standing and indirectly hurts the reputation of his school for you to be seen so often in the company of untouchables. What do you do?
You have been conducting an evaluation of a year-old pilot agricultural extension project. During the course of your study, you have discovered a number of irregularities, including serious misuse of funds, and, in general, have found that the project has been almost a complete failure. In the report you just finished, you have recommended that no further funds be spent. This morning your supervisor has come to you and pointed out that the state senator for this district, who is running for re-election, needs some good news to jump start his campaign. A favorable report on the project would be very useful, not just to the candidate, but to your boss and, ultimately, to the organization you work for. He asks you to rewrite your report. What do you do?
You are an outgoing, gregarious woman, interested in people and naturally friendly. Today your boss has called you into his office and explained that your friendliness has been remarked upon and is causing misunderstanding in certain quarters. The women who work in the office think you are acting flirtatious, even loose, and the men have begun to question your professionalism. Your boss asks you if you can "tone it down" a bit. You are hurt and surprised; this is just the way you are. What can you do?
Away From Home
You are a community development worker, helping install an irrigation system in the provincial capital. You, your host country supervisor, and a team of eight technicians have been living here for three weeks in one of the local guesthouses. Away from their families, these men have shown a side of their personality you have not seen before. They start drinking as soon as they get back from the site, about ten miles from town, and at least once a week they visit the town's red light district. They always invite you to these "events," but as you neither drink nor care to visit prostitutes, you have been declining. You can see that your consistent refusals is beginning to create a gulf between you and them. What can you do?