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King tides in Kiribati contaminate groundwater supplies | Pacific Beat|
Kiribati is also located in an area of high seismic activity and undersea earthquakes can generate destructive tsunamis. Due to the low level of some of the islands, Kiribati is highly vulnerable to the effects of tidal surges and sea level rises. To date, no major rapid onset natural disaster has occurred, however climate-change related events are of increasing concern.|
Culture shock. Your initial reaction to Kiribati is likely to be one of delight and curiosity, similar to how a tourist would react. But working in a foreign country is another matter. The differences that strike you as fascinating at first will become commonplace and invisible, and you might become aware of more profound differences between you and the people with whom you work. For example, when talking to an I-Kiribati in English or the local tongue, you might suddenly realize that although you are using the same language, you do not understand each other. Words like “democratic” or “clean” or “soon” may have different meanings for each of you. You might be mystified to find that local people who consider themselves democratic and who talk with sincerity about their struggle for freedom and independence can, at the same time, treat subordinates, women, children, or other people in what strikes you as a harshly authoritarian manner.|
The Pacific island nation has found itself at the epicenter of the global climate change debate, as it is one of the first places that will be destroyed if sea levels rise as predicted through this century. Kiribati leaders are currently mulling a major decision on Fiji’s main island for $9.6 million as insurance against a submerged future. If necessary, they could move their entire permanent population of just over 100,000 onto the land in Fiji. is composed of 32 , like the one shown above, and one coral island spread amidst 1,351,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, some of which have already been affected by salinated soil and drinking water due to water level changes.|
Friendships and relationships are viewed differently in Kiribati than in the United States. Men and women who are not married are never supposed to be alone together and do not display affection in public. You will be required to observe these cultural norms. It is very unusual for anyone to live alone outside of a family group. This is another reason that Volunteers are assigned to live with families.|
Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Kiribati Volunteers complete their two years of service without major personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce their risks and enhance their safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Kiribati. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your own safety and well-being. Women should never travel alone after dark in the outer islands—even walking from one village to another or to your school. Women should also not go biking or jogging by themselves in isolated areas, and should never go walking in the bush alone.|
While lazing on desolate beaches is a huge draw, Kiribati does have an increasing population of both human and wild life.|
On Tarawa, minibuses provide transportation from one end of the island to the other for a fare that varies from 55 cents to $1.40 (AUD) depending on the length of the ride. On the outer islands, trucks can be hired for groups or for longer distances. Most Volunteers purchase a bicycle in Tarawa, which is shipped to their outer island. The Peace Corps will provide each Volunteer with a safety helmet. Though there are a number of boats that service the islands, Volunteers rarely travel by boat any more. For safety reasons, Volunteers are only permitted to travel between islands on vessels of the Kiribati Shipping Line or the SuperCat (a large catamaran). Volunteers must have advance authorization from the country director to travel by sea and must always bring a life vest (provided by Peace Corps).|
All Volunteers in Kiribati are required to live with a host family during training. Volunteers are also assigned a host family, with whom they will live for the entire two years of service. This includes Volunteers living in South Tarawa. Understandably, many Volunteers have difficulty adjusting to this because it means giving up the independent living to which they are accustomed. Household rules, especially for women, are likely to be completely different and feel very restrictive compared to life in the United States. Yet, in most instances, the rewards are great. Living with a family makes it easier to learn the language, offers a much greater understanding of the culture, and ensures a safer and more secure environment for the Volunteer. Much of a Volunteer’s life in Kiribati will be based on interactions with his or her host family, which provide an entrance into the community.|
Female Volunteers encounter different and more cultural challenges in Kiribati than male Volunteers. There is a distinct lack of the independence and freedom that you have in the U.S. You cannot go to most places alone, and you may not be able to walk around outside without others in tow.|
Privacy vs. intimacy. While some Volunteers live in the same village as other Volunteers, all Volunteers are assigned a Kiribati host family. Such an arrangement has the advantages of companionship and support, but it also places you in intense relationships with people not entirely of your own choosing. You may have had a similar experience with a college roommate, but then you were able to get away from each other for periods of time. This will not be possible in Kiribati, and the enforced intimacy, even with a compatible colleague, could wear on both of you.|
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service we consider normal in the United States. If you come here expecting U.S. standards, you will be in for a lot of frustration. Mail can take weeks or even months to arrive in Kiribati, though mail leaving Kiribati seems to be more reliable than mail arriving in Kiribati. Some mail may simply not arrive. Often mail is delayed because of a canceled flight or weight restrictions on international and domestic carriers. Although we do not want to sound too discouraging, communication can become a very sensitive issue when one is thousands of miles from family and friends. We think it is best to forewarn you about the reality of mail service in this part of the world. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to write “Airmail—via Fiji” on envelopes.|
Traveler’s checks and U.S. dollars may be exchanged for local currency at the Bank of Kiribati or at a hotel on South Tarawa.|