How to have a safe Peace Corps life abroad
When I told my family that I would be serving as an English teacher with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, many of their responses bordered on fear. My grandmother especially thought that Africa was a dangerous place and as a young woman, I wouldn’t be safe on my own.
I saw serving in the Peace Corps as an adventure as a way to live in a part of the world that I otherwise would not be able to experience. Africa was my region of choice, because it seemed like the place where I would be most needed and would be the most culturally enriching for me. Safety was something I began to consider though, once I got accepted to my position.
The first thing I did was to find information on Lesotho. Once you get accepted into a program and find out which country you will be serving in, read as much as you can about that country. I learned that Lesotho is a relatively safe country with little political unrest. Some countries have more turbulence, and it’s important to be aware of each country’s political and social history.
Peace Corps service begins with a two-day staging in an American city. During these two days, volunteers are introduced to cultural facts, safety measures and overviews on harassment (and for Africa, HIV/AIDS). Upon landing in the country of service, volunteers begin a two-three month training period where they learn the language and skills needed to survive in a developing country. Training is a good introduction to potential obstacles volunteers will deal with on a daily basis. It also provides tools to immersing into the host country culture, which is a key method to being safe.
But no amount of training can fully prepare a volunteer for the problems he/she will encounter in the Peace Corps. Every volunteer’s experience is unique (and differs between men and women, white volunteers and black volunteers, 20-somethings versus 50-somethings). But drawing upon my experience as a recent volunteer, I have come up with a list of ideas that will help make your Peace Corps experience as safe as possible. These include: learning the customs and the language, having an open dialogue with both host country nationals and Peace Corps, keeping updated on national issues of security, and using good old common sense.
In training, trainers will lay out cultural rules of behavior such as how to dress, the appropriate greetings to exchange, what hand to eat with. It’s important to take these rules into consideration, especially as they come from natives of your host country. Once