Here are specific answers to some of the most common questions asked by invitees.
What should I pack?
Macedonia has a four season cycle of fall, winter, spring and summer and the weather changes with each season. Temperatures can range from -12oC (10o F) in the winter to 40oC (104o F) in the summer. Packing can be tricky because you do have to pack for very cold winters and very hot summers, plus casual clothes and business wear. Snow boots and a good winter coat is highly recommended, as well as long underwear. Many volunteers wear shorts and sandals in the summer, but in many traditional/conservative communities tank tops, short shorts, or short skirts are not recommended. Both winter clothes and summer clothes are available in Macedonia, though some sizes can be hard to find. Many volunteers do suggest bring a good pair of winter shoes/boots because good quality winter footwear can be more expansive.
A sleeping bag is also another item that all Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) are grateful that they packed, not only for cold winter nights but also for visiting other PCVs around the country. No need to bring a lot of books, the Peace Corps Office in Skopje has a huge library ready for you when you arrive. A great ice breaker for when arriving at your host family is a photo album of your family, or a picture book of your home state or hometown. In closing bring along your favorite hobby or the item that helps you pass time and makes you happy. When you are having a hard day or feeling homesick what item will help cheer you up and reconnect with home? Whatever that is for you, bring it!
Should I bring my laptop? And Is Macedonia really wireless?
A laptop is not required because almost all communities have Internet cafe's. However, bringing your laptop can be very helpful while serving in Macedonia. When working on secondary projects a laptop can help you work at home in your spare time. Many Volunteers bring their laptops (plus a headset) to keep in touch with their families back home. There are many Internet phone systems that can help you stay in touch with your friends and family such as Skype, Yahoo! Voice, Google Talk, MSN Voice. PCVs also use their laptops to watch movies and play music. It is suggested that you should purchase personal item insurance for all your technology equipment.
Macedonia does have a wireless Internet system. This can be confusing because it does not mean that there is free WI-FI throughout the country. To use the wireless system you still need to buy a connector from an Internet company for your computer and pay a monthly fee for using the wireless system. There are also ADSL and Broadband-Cable Internet options. Many companies offer different plans and different rates, and more information will be provided to you when you arrive in country for service.
What is readily available at stores and what is not? I'm a vegetarian. Will I have trouble finding food in Macedonia?
Almost everything you would ever need or want is available in stores. Specialty items and technology that might not be offered in your community will be available in the closest city to you or in Skopje. Many Volunteers get gift packages from home for those small items that are not sold in Macedonia such as: taco seasoning, certain spices, ranch dressing mix, Zip-lock bags, and Gatorade. Other items that PCVs also bring or have sent are some good quality kitchen utensils like spatulas, knives, and corkscrews. Also feminine hygiene products are available to purchase, though the quality is not the same as in America, and the only tampons available are without applicators.
While many Macedonian dishes do include meat, the country offers some of the most amazing fruits and vegetables. Also, pasta, beans, lentils, rice, and soy products are readily stocked in stores. In restaurants it is not a problem to find items that are vegetarian. Due to the high-quality of the fresh fruits and vegetables, many Peace Corps Volunteers state that they eat less meat now and more produce than they ever did in America.
Will I need to buy a cell phone?
You are not required to buy a cell phone. But almost every person in Macedonia has a cell phone, and they are very useful. If you choose to purchase a cell phone, you can do so when you arrive and Peace Corps Staff will provide more information during Orientation Week. Cell phones range in price and you can get a standard prepaid phone for $50 - $80. Prepaid phones allow you add credit to your phone depending on your own personal needs, but there are postpaid options similar to U.S. monthly billing plans.
What is the electricity voltage, and can I buy adapters in country?
The electricity voltage in Macedonia is 220V, 50 Hz. The electrical plugs are the typical European plug with two circular metal pins. You can buy adapters both in the U.S. and in Macedonia. Please note that American electronics such as curling irons and hair dryers run on 110V and need both an adapter and a transformer to adjust the voltage. Computers that have the black box on the power cord and state in writing on the box: "Input 110V-240V," only need an adapter because the black box transforms the voltage automatically. Items such as curling irons, clothes irons, hair dryers, hair and beard trimmers are inexpensive and readily available in Macedonia.
Where is a great place for me to get information about Macedonia?
There are several great places to look for information on Macedonia. Here are some links that will help you get started:
Other personal networking sites that maybe useful are:
Facebook.com - Search for "MAK group"
Yahoo! Peace Corps Group
Also it is a great idea to bring a travel guide with you, such as Lonely Planet or Bradt. Any large bookstore will have travel guides. It is suggested that you also bring one for Eastern Europe and Western Europe if you are planning to vacation in these areas while you are in service.
Should I bring extra money? / Can I use my ATM card in Macedonia?
ATMs are widely available throughout Macedonia. Make sure to contact your bank and let them know that you will be using your card in Macedonia before arriving. VISA is the most widely accepted credit card, and others (MasterCard, Diners, American Express) are accepted less frequently or not at all. If and how much extra money a PCV needs depends on the personal lifestyle of the Volunteer. Peace Corps encourages Volunteers to live a lifestyle that is in comparison with the people in Macedonia. Peace Corps will take care of your living costs while you are in Macedonia which includes electricity, water, apartment rent, and some allowances for travel and phone. If you plan on traveling to other counties while on vacation, then extra money would be advisable. Also another great tip is to check the expiration date on your ATM and credit cards. If they will expire while you are in Macedonia, ask to have your cards reissued so you don't have to worry receiving new cards during your service.
How does vacation time work? / Can we travel to other countries?
For every month of service, PCVs earn two vacation days. You are not allowed to use vacation days while you are in PST, and you are also not allow to travel outside the country for the first three months after PST or for the last three months of your service. Anytime you travel outside Macedonia, even on weekends, you must use vacation days (unless for work). It is recommended that family and friends should not visit until after you have been at your site for three months. Also, as a general rule, vacation should not interfere with your work site and must be approved by your work supervisor.
Can I have a pet as a Peace Corps Volunteer?
You are allowed to have a pet while you are in service. You must ask permission and have a form signed by your landlord that gives you permission to have a pet in your home. When you arrive, current PCVs can help you with more information on veterinarian services and how to return to the U.S. with your pet if you choose to take your cat or dog home after service.
Every experience has value, even unexpected, challenging and grueling ones. Josh MAK 10