Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Housing/Living arrangment while training at FSI

And as promised, some (way too) detailed information on housing during training at FSI. This is a freakishly long post, so brace yourselves! This is what happens:
One sunny/snowy VERY happy day, you receive the long-coveted State Department letter in your email, titled enticingly—“Salary Offer.” Whoaaaa, you think, this is rather awesome. You burst into a spontaneous dance for a while, yelp in excitement from time (much to your cat’s irritation) and finally decide to open the precious email only to be blinded by a myriad of colors, fonts, italics, bolds, underlining and flashy yellow backgrounds. The part that is of particular interest to us lies at the bottom and it tells you that they have contracted with a management company to provide direct-billing housing (meaning, you pay nothing out of pocket) in Arlington, or you can choose to take a housing allowance instead, find your own place and wait to be reimbursed. It also directs you to a lovely facebook account the HR department has created with more extensive info on the subject, including pictures.
Thusly, in essence, the excited future FSO has 2 options: (1) to take the per diem allowance and find his own place, or (2) to stay at a DOS-sponsored building.

Pros of option 1: You can choose your own location, and think that you are super cool because you live in downtown DC vs. Arlington. I cannot think of any other advantages. Here are the disadvantages:
1) You get to negotiate a lease with an obtuse landlord who refuses to include a so-called “diplomatic clause” in your lease, which allows you to break your lease at any time, depending on when you have to leave for post. Needless to say, landlords are not particularly excited about the clause.
2) You pay all of your utilities
3) Need to find a way to get to FSI other than the shuttles. If you live in downtown DC, the only way to get to FSI (except for a car or bike), is to take the shuttle service from Rosslyn (first stop in Arlington) bright and early every morning, which, given the slow metro system in Washington, pretty much means that you need to get up at 5.30 am every morning to ride the metro to Rosslyn and then get on the shuttle (which is often quite late). That is what all of my classmates who live in DC do. Also, most of the FSI happy hours happen in Arlington, which means that once it is over, you have to find a way to get your drunk diplomatic butt back into town, rather than just walk home. There is another shuttle leaving from the Main State building on R street. That shuttle may be useful to you if you live someone downtown, but it starts at 8.30 am, and it takes almost 30 mins to get to FSI. Thusly, if your class starts at the crack of dawn (like all of the South Asian language classes do), then obvisouly, you can't really use it.
4) Your allowance is VERY often VERY late and you end up fronting your rent all the time.
5) Your allowance is on a sliding scale, meaning it is very generous at the beginning, thus luring you to an expensive place, and much smaller in the end (which works out just fine if you happen to go to a post with no language training and spend very little time at FSI beyond A-100s).

State-sponsored housing pros (the only con—EVERY apartment has exactly the same furnishings, so it gets a bit weird when you visit others):
1) You don’t have to worry about rent, cable, internet, utilities.
2) Every time you have ANY problem, you call the State Department liaison and your problem is taken care of.
3) You get weekly maid service (no joke!!!).
4) A lot of other FSOs live there so you get to socialize.
5) The shuttles to FSI stop right in front of the buildings.
6) The apartments are furnished.
7) All of them have pools, gyms, concierge and all kind of other perks.
8) You get free underground parking!
So, I would encourage you to consider the DOS option.

A note about the shuttle services: anyone associated to FSI can board the shuttles, whether or not they stay at a DOS-sponsored property.

One final point for the ardent cooks among the future FSO fold. My biggest question prior to coming here was—what was provided in the kitchen. In other words, what did I need to bring/buy in order to continue to live a nice cooking life? So, here is exposed truth about the “Welcome Kit” provided by DOS-sponsored apartments for a 2-bedroom apartment: sets of 6 of silverware, small and large plates and wine glasses, mugs and cereal bowls, a pile of water glasses, a set of 3 pots in various sizes, a set of 3 glass bowls and Tupperware in various sizes, a couple of baking pans, measuring spoons, bottle and can openers, a set of stirring spoons, a kettle, a toaster and a great block knife -set. There are also placemats and napkins for 4. Oy, I forgot the colander! It also has a vacuum, a (good) iron and ironing board, laundry basket as well as a water bucket and a broom! It is a bit underwhelming but a good start. If you are driving from home to Arlington, load your car with kitchen stuff you want or be prepared to do some damage at the nearby Target or IKEA. Your UAB will take a while.
This is all that comes to mind for now. I welcome any questions and will update this post as necessary. Now I am off to finish my dinner of popcorn.

DISCLAIMER: THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED HERE ARE SOLELY, ENTIRELLY AND EXCLUSIVELY MY OWN (and Fat Cat's) AS A RESULT OF MY OWN OBSERVATIONS. PLEASE, DO NOT SEND ME HATE MAIL JUST BECAUSE YOU HAPPEN TO DISAGREE.

46 comments:

  1. Thanks for the info! We are nowhere close to getting the call, but since we have four kids we were very curious if any Oakwoods had 3 bedroom places. Sounds like 410 South Maple is calling our name!

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  2. I have to admit that u have lot of patience to deal with any type of admn queries! I am sure that you will be a good fit to head the facilities management in any organisation, and Federal Govt may keep you in DC itself in charge of assisting aspiring and newly recruited FSOs and my diplomat son alone will be sent wandering around the Globe, perhaps alternatively you may land as head of facilities managment in all or many of your postings! It made a very interesting reading even to a person like me who can never aspire to become a FSO, but had undergone such experience in seeking the Central Bank (equivalent of ur FRBs)accommodation along with my two kids and a fussy kitchen (only for cleaning though hated cooking but did it out of no other option)addicted wife!

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  3. We picked Oakwood Rosslyn for my wife's A-100 training and haven't regretted it.

    But there are some other advantages to choosing someplace besides Oakwood that will make us consider other options down the road.

    Because the per diem is initially so high, it's possible to find a much nicer apartment (particularly if you only want a 1-bedroom) if you search on your own. Of course there are headaches, like you said, that along with that, but they might be worth it.

    Another thing to consider is a place like Residence Inn. You can rack up a lot of airline miles and Marriott points if you play your cards right.

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  4. Just a quick note... Oakwood Falls Church does now have a limited number of 3 bedroom units only available to State Dept families.

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  7. Can you take the Oakwood shuttle to FSI even if you don't live there? I'm a local hire, and live just a couple blocks away from one of the buildings.

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  9. I would just like to add one point: Right now Oakwood properties are in very short supply, and people should not have their minds too set on a particular building, since it may or may not be available. Make a reservation ASAP, express your needs/preferences, and be flexible!

    Thanks for posting. This is very informative and I'm sure will benefit a lot of people!

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  11. @Colin--yes, you can. I added that to the post.
    Everyone else, thanks for the additional input, I have added the Falls Church info in the post. Keep the questions coming!

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  12. I ended up at Oakwood Rosslyn and have been generally happy with it. I will say that as a single person with friends in downtown D.C., I don't think I would have gone with the PCS program if Falls Church had been the only option on the table, in part due to the distance to D.C. and in part because while I know that beggars can't be choosers, the prospect of spending up to a year sleeping on a Murphy bed really didn't appeal. I hear that some singles have been able to swing one bedroom apartments at Falls Church, but it's the exception and not the rule- most of the people I know ended up in studios with Murphy beds.

    Rosslyn itself is a bit of a non-entity, but for proximity to the metro, Georgetown and FSI shuttle, you really can't beat it. The off-street parking is a pretty nice perk, too. The Oakwood program in general is definitely a nice option, but if you have the funds to pay the up front costs involved in getting a place independently, you can find some pretty nice apartments that will deal with FSOs. Livelines is always a good place to check for information on that- logistically, though, going independent and vouchering is a bigger headache.

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  13. Oh, another "pro" to add to leasing your own place. . . pet friendly. Most people I know with pets (especially multiple dogs) choose to not go with the Oakwood option.

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  14. Thank you for all this great info. I stayed at Oakwood Rosslyn with my husband and one-year old son for about 2 months stay while in training a few years ago and it was great for that short amount of time. Had we been there longer, living at Falls Church may have been better for kid's activities. Something that we found out about is that many of these places can also get you deal on rental cars. For those of you on a short TDY or Medvac this can be very helpful. The Marriot chains can even work you deal for a free use of renatl car included in your package price. The Enterprise Rental Car office across the street from Rosslyn Falls Church offers special rates for those residents of the Oakwood Rosslyn building.

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  15. A clarification about living in DC and taking the Main State shuttle--there are at least 2 shuttles that depart Main State, which is actually on C Street (well, D and 21st and 23rd, too, but the shuttle is on C) in time to get you to FSI for an A-100 8:30 start. That's most days.

    There is also an earlier shuttle that would even get you there in time for 7:30 language class starts after A-100.

    If you live in the District on the orange or blue lines, you can get off at Foggy Bottom and walk @ 8 minutes to Main State, or stick on until Rosslyn. I live about 20 mins. walk to Main State, but since Foggy Bottom is on the way it's no help.

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  16. (Reposting a previous comment, with some details removed.)

    The three bedroom apartments at Pearson Square are marketed in the private sector as 2 bedrooms plus an office. It works great as a third bedroom with the Oakwood supplied bedroom furnishings, but it is tiny -- just so that no one is picturing three FULL bedrooms. Some of the other Oakwood locations also have three bedrooms, but there is usually a waiting list. Oakwood does a good job accommodating families with more children. (But if you just have two kids, don't expect a three bedroom!)

    If you have younger kids and want playground areas, the Oakwood Falls Church Mother Ship is probably the best bet for ease with kids. That said, our kiddos are older, and there are two parks/playgrounds within walking distance of Pearson.

    If you bring a vehicle with you, even the Falls Church locations are convenient to the city. In spite of the horror stories of DC traffic, except with tourist crowds in the summer, it is super-easy to drive into DC and get parking. We tend to be more urban people, and have been happy with the ethnic groceries in the area and the ease of getting from here into DC.

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  17. This has probably been asked before, but for how long can one stay at Oakwood for free? In other words, if one stays at FSI well beyond A100 for extended training how long does the free housing last?

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  18. As long as you are in training and few days more after that if you are assigned to a DC post. If you are studying language and some other assigned course at FSI, you are good. I will add that above, thanks for the question!

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  20. Anonymous said...
    My husband starts A-100 March 28 and we're moving to the ...... apartments. You mentioned your UAB took awhile to arrive... how long is awhile? Where did you move from? I'm driving so I'm trying to figure out how much I want to pile in the car versus let the movers take care of as UAB. Thanks for the advice.

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  21. It typically takes 2 weeks so plan for that. We have made several car trips filled with stuff--UAB is very small in reality.

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  22. Thanks for the great info. One question: How does the Oakwood Rosslyn/Arlington work out for folks with a newborn and a dog? We're planning to stay there, and when we arrive we'll have a one month old baby in addition to our dog. We'll be there for around 11 months...hoping there are some easy walks to parks etc. Thanks!

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  23. Honestly, I don't know the area very well. It is quite hip, plenty of restaurants and grocery stores. As for parks, I have no idea...

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  24. I am a single male in my late twenties. I am entering the FSS. Which place would be best for:dinning, bars, nightlife etc...

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  25. Dear single young male, during A100 you will be pretty much tethered to your class, which will involve a lot of drinking and partying. The best places to live for that purpose are Rosslyn, Clarendon and Ballston, the three areas with dining, bars and nightlife. Of course, you can always take the per diem and go live in Washington, DC. However, if you don't know anyone there, that is a tad pointless because a lot of your friends will be your A-100 peeps, and after a draining day at FSI, no one feels like going downtown. Rather, you'll frequent the fine establishments of Arlington. I liked Ballston the most because it was walking distance to a bunch of bars (dives and not), and grocery shoping and CVS. Good luck!

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  26. I truly like to reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a nice information.
    suites at silver towers

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  27. As of February, 2013, the shuttle rules at Oakwood must have changed. From the Facebook HR/EX PCS Lodging Program page: "Elisa, Thank you for contacting us. Unless you are a current participant in the Lodging Program, employees may not use the Oakwood shuttle."

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  28. The paid housing option and perks seem a lot like what my mother experiences as a teacher abroad minus the maid lol.

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  29. Anon, it naturally depends on where yo ugo. The teachers here at the American School get all those perks. Keep in mind though, the FS does not pay for the maid. You do. So, it's your choice...

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  31. Hey - Hope you all don't mind my asking for a suggestion. I have lived in Fairlington (a very charming & historic Arlington neighborhood) for 4 years and will be moving soon. I am considering renting my place fully furnished to foreign service folks since I live fairly close to FSI. I think there must be some who don't want to live in a hotel. I'm willing to work with foreign service stipulations and perhaps even provide a car. Does FSI keep a list of units (other than big complexes) that will rent to training attendees? How do I reach out to FSI attendees?

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  32. Hey Jennifer, no, the FSI does not keep a list of private renters, and we have itnernal lists where people would publish to which you'll probably won;t get access. If you want to, send me an email with the info, and I can forward on your behalf.

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  33. Thank you so much for passing along information about my condo. Below a quick blurb, see below. I've also attached the listing on airbnb (willing to work within the FSI stipend amounts). It's only 3.5 miles from FSI:

    Rent this charming condo for your long-term stay in the DC area. The condo is located in a desirable and peaceful historic neighborhood (called Fairlington) just 10 minutes outside of Washington D.C. and 3.5 miles from the Foreign Service Institute. Fairlington includes mature trees, and lots of maintained green space, as well as a pool, tennis court, and track. The condo is on the second level of a garden-style building and is just steps away from a metro bus that will deliver you straight to the pentagon metro in 10 minutes. This condo is 1008 square feet and has a vaulted ceiling in the living room with a cast iron spiral staircase leading to a large loft. The master bedroom has a queen sized bed and the loft has a double bed. All kitchen items are included (dishes, bowls, pots, pans, etc). Washer and dryer in the unite and plenty of parking. One small pet may be permitted. Tons of in-unit storage space.

    Walk to restaurants, shops, grocery store, movie theater, live theater, library and all amenities. Metro bus picks up steps from the front door. This neighborhood also has close access a bike trail.

    Airbnb Listing: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/870956

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  35. What is the elementary school situation if you bring your child?

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    1. I guess you enroll them in the nearby school? During our second training in DC, we stayed in Ballston and Son attended Ashlawn elementary. Arlington school system is one of THE best in the country.

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  36. Like an earlier comment, I am also headed to FSI soon with my wife as a Tandem. We will also have a 1 month old during our class and a dog.

    Any suggestions for a place that's convenient? We will likely not have cars, so we were hoping to find everything we need within walking distance. We're really just trying to find a place with a decent grocery store and maybe a restaurant nearby. Going to the bar after class sounds awesome, but probably not likely with a newborn. :)

    Thanks in advance...

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    1. Hello and congrats! By now you have probably figured all of that out but if not, Ballston or Rosslyn or even Clarendon are probably your best bets. DOS has contracts with a bunch of buildings in those places. Make sure you go to a placae that has a shuttle to FSI, back when I was going there were several but I heard some got cut. There are a bunch of stores around, like Trader Joes in Ballston, Whole Foods in Clarendon, and others. Bot honestly, without a car it is a bit tricky. I am assuming you kid is going to the FSI daycare? And yes, you can do a bar with a new born, I had plenty of colleagues do it - Arlington is so child-friendly (well, with some exceptions) and you can bring in the car seat. Good luck!

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  37. Hi! I know I'm commenting on a blog post that's six years old so thanks for your patience. :) One quick question for my family - how pet friendly is the state dept housing? We have a large rambunctious dog, and were wondering how well that would work out in the provided apartments. If you didn't have a pet in state housing, do you know others that did?

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    1. Hi, there are a ton of these "large rambunctious" dogs in the FS. Frankly, I have rarely seen any other type (did poodles just get out of fashion or spontaneously emigrate to Mars?) Just make sure you mention you have a dog, so that you are assigned a place that allows them.

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  39. Hi! How far in advance of the first day of A-100 will they move you into the government apartments? My husband just got an offer for the March 6th class and we are wondering when they will move us out to D.C. Thanks!!

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  40. Hi! How far in advance of the first day of A-100 will they move you into the government apartments? My husband just got an offer for the March 6th class and we are wondering when they will move us out to D.C. Thanks!!

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  41. Hi! How far in advance will they move you into the government apartments? My husband just got an offer for the March 6th class and we are wondering when they will move us out to D.C. Thanks!!

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    1. Hi, you get to move I think 2 days max in advance :). so, if he starts on a Monday, I think you can move in on a Saturday.

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