My housing arrangements for training in DC have been made. During initial training, the State Department pays a per diem to cover housing and meals. The per diem can be split into two parts. The first part is for housing, the second is for meals and other expenses. Trainees are given the choice to take the entire per diem, and make our own housing arrangements, or forego the housing allowance and stay in a long-term residence hotel that the government contacts with.
I decided that dealing with a new career in a new city without my family would be stressful enough, and I shouldn’t take on the additional stress of trying to find a place to live, so I chose the government-sponsored housing option. The housing complex that I chose to live in is called Oakwood Apartments. It’s located in Virginia, in the suburbs of DC, a few miles from the training center where classes are held. My housing per diem will go directly to Oakwood; I don’t have to do any paperwork for my housing.
The process of signing up for housing at Oakwood was easy and pleasant. I had to do some back-and-forth emails with the housing department at State to confirm my eligibility for the program, then I could communicate directly with the staff at Oakwood. The people that I talked with were helpful and friendly. They have a lot of experience in dealing with new hires to the Foreign Service, and anticipated most of my questions. After making my arrangements with Oakwood, I was sure that choosing the government-sponsored housing program was the right decision. There are so many unknowns with this career change, it makes sense to minimize the variables wherever I can. Even though I always try to think for myself and make my own decisions, sometimes it’s better to stay with the herd.
Oakwood assigned me to a one-bedroom “apartment” that has a kitchen. The complex’s website shows pictures that make the apartment look quite comfortable. Of course, you have to be careful with website pictures of hotel rooms. In my previous career, I stayed in a lot of hotel rooms, and looked at a lot of hotel websites. After years of being fooled and disappointed, I have developed a policy to help me evaluate pictures and anticipate the quality of the hotel. My rule is to look at the good parts and reduce them by half, then find all the negative aspects that I can and double them. The place has a fitness center? Great, the pictures look good. But half of the machines are probably broken, and the room probably smells bad. Those cabinets look tacky; they’re probably worn and dirty as well. With this cynical (realistic) aproach, I get a more accurate picture of what the place really will be like. Still, even after applying my rubrik, the apartment looks fine.
The complex also provides a shuttle service between the hotel and the training center, so I don’t have to worry about transportation. The complex is a few blocks from the Metro station. DC has a good subway system, so getting into the city for sightseeing should not be hard. Evan and I are already talking about spring break in DC. That should be “fun.”
Now that I have a place to live once I get there, next is the task of getting there. I can’t make my travel arrangements until I get my travel authorization from State. This authorization is also known as “travel orders.” I have to have my travel orders before the travel agency that State contacts with with purchase my ticket. That will be my next adventure.