Wednesday, October 2, 2019

5 Things to Know about Long-Term Temp Housing

So M and I are now fully settled into our temporary housing, provided to us by the Department of State while we're in the DC area for mandatory training at the Foreign Service Institute (a.k.a. Diplomat School). This is our first time doing this, so we definitely experienced a learning curve and plenty of things we wished we had known in advance. Now don't get me wrong, we really appreciate the perk of a place to stay while we're assigned here. But for the benefit of other Foreign Service folks who may not have stayed in this type of housing before (or non-FS people who are just curious), here are the top five things we wish we had known beforehand.

(I will also clarify that these are pretty specific to the Department of State's HRPCS Lodging program with direct billing. You do have the option of finding your own place, reporting receipts, and being fully or partially reimbursed, but we decided to go with the convenience of State Department arrangements instead of apartment hunting ourselves. We can't really speak to the process of finding housing on your own and navigating the reimbursement system that way.)

  1. They're not joking about that short lead time for moving. We moved in on a holiday Monday and found out where we were going to live the Wednesday night before. Yep, that's two business days' notice. It's good to be flexible.
  2. You probably won't get a lot of information about accommodations in time to pack out of your house. We ended up wasting precious suitcase space on things we didn't really need, like bedding and towels. We expected a low-quality welcome kit but were provided with a nicer set-up than expected.
  3. Sometimes you get room service?! Our housing includes once per week room service! This was a really pleasant surprise, so now we at least don't have to worry about our linens.
  4. Properties can oversell their amenities. The property management company of our apartment had included electric car chargers as a selling point, which is the main reason they were our #1 choice. When we arrived, though, we learned the one electric charger didn't work and the property management company wasn't even aware! After M reported it, they finally fixed it. However, because they never put up any "electric vehicle-only" signage, all the spots that reach the charger are usually blocked by non-electric vehicles. They say they're working on it.
  5. The FSI shuttle is not all it's cracked up to be. The shuttle FSI arranges was sold as a strong perk, which makes sense since a lot of folks come without their cars. We drive most days, so we've only had to take the shuttle near our residence once so far. That one day I realized I did not want to ever take the shuttle again. In the time five shuttles should have come, only one did. They were supposed to run every few minutes, but we waited over 20 minutes and were late to class that day. Once we finally did get on the shuttle, it was insanely crowded so we had to stand squished together without great handhold options for the turns and brakes. We later learned that when the shuttles are too full, they simply start skipping stops (including ours), so that information would've been great up front. At least now we know and hopefully won't make that same mistake again.

I have a lot of thoughts specifically about language training, too, but I'll share that in a different blog post. I hope this was helpful and informative for some readers. And for those with their own relevant experience, please feel free to add your thoughts on long-term USG (U.S. government) temp housing in the comments below.

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