This is a recent exchange I had with a volunteer over in Kazakhstan:
I usually am not one to care too much about fashion and such (which
the following questions will probably indicate), but I realize that I
need to make a good impression and represent the Peace Corps during my
service. Thus the following questions:
I remember reading in the welcome book that younger males in
Kazakhstan usually sport the clean-shaven look rather than facial
hair. I realize that the caveman beard I sometimes have would
definitely be unprofessional, but how would a neatly trimmed beard be
received in a work environment? Am I destined to re-acquire the habit
of shaving often?
Also, I am a big fan of my khaki crocs for when I run errands, go out,
pretty much whenever I am not trying to dress to impress. Have they
caught on yet in Kazakhstan? I realize they're probably the ugliest
shoe ever invented, but they are very convenient and comfortable.
Would I look completely out of place wearing them around?
While the majority of males don't wear beards here, I say do what you
want. There is even a facebook group about the strapping beards among
the kazakhstan volunteers. Beards might not be the most professional,
but they already will think you're weird, so why not help them out?
As for crocs, sure, bring them. People here wear really cheap foam/
rubber sandals around the house as well as around town. Bring them,
you'll fit right in, seriosuly. With a pair of old shorts and a plain
t-shirt, you'll look like any regular around town.
And just to make mention of something I recall reading somewhere in
either our welcome book or on the Kaz19 forum: shorts are definitely
permissable here in the summers and whoever said they weren't,
obviously wore a blindfold. Bring your shorts for the summer, all the
guys wear them.
So while I will still have to judge my specific work environment for beard-acceptance, it's reassuring that some current PCVs get along just fine with them. This brings up a good point of how much we should try to adapt. No matter what we do, we as PCVs will always be the outsider. I think more important than trying to meet the impossible task of fully assimilating is to understand and respect of the host country's values and norms.
I'm also excited about the cheap, foam/rubber sandals of Kazakhstan. Or rather, my crocs not being too out of place. Even if I get the same amount of crap for wearing them over there as I do here, I would be happy.