What’s diplomatic life like when working domestically? Well, when we’re back, we’re not really diplomats. We don’t have immunity, or talk to foreign contacts, or go to receptions. Worst of all: we have to pay for our own housing—on a government salary!
Basically, our lives are a lot less glamorous when we’re “back.” However, it’s not like they’re suddenly normal. After all, most of us aren’t from the Washington DC area. My husband and I still live very far away from our families, who live in the Netherlands and in Oregon respectively.
This strange situation—not being abroad serving the “critical mission of advancing US interests on the frontlines of foreign policy” but also not actually being home—is a bit weird. And it’s even weirder because it’s so temporary. Usually it’s just for a year or two, which is not enough time to really settle in.
Fortunately, there’s a solution for us, temporary residents of our own country. It’s called Oakwood. Oakwood owns several corporate housing complexes in North Virginia where FSOs can move into free of hassle. It’s like moving into a hotel, except we get a (modest sized) apartment instead of just a room.
Moving into an Oakwood is the most convenient way to move back to DC, and convenience is important. After all, we don’t get time off to look for houses. When we get assigned to DC, we start working in our new jobs immediately.
A second benefit of living in an Oakwood-owned apartment complex (or another apartment complex that has a contract with the State Department) is that it has a built-in community. Where we live there are many diplomats, and there are even shuttle buses to commute to work every day—for free!
I feel like we're beached wales, in-between missions and overseas adventures. However, we find solace in living near each other and sharing the convenience of being driven to work together and talking about the ins and outs of our jobs.
An even bigger advantage of living in an Oakwood apartment, I think, is that it’s full of diplomatic families. All of my son’s playground friends are “diplo kids” like him and go to the same school. You should see the school bus situation: they drop off dozens of kids at our stop, all of whom live in the four buildings that make up our apartment complex.
To me, it’s very important to be part of a community. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in co-housing, or because I’m used to having a close-knit embassy community, or maybe it’s simply because I have kids, but I really like living among people we share experiences with, and that my son can play with kids he can relate to.
But we’re definitely not living the high life here, at Oakwood. Our apartment is tiny and our kids share a bedroom. When I arrived in June, they were redoing the courtyard, which meant that the outside pool, the tennis courts, and the playground were closed during most of the summer. The “clubhouse” is still a construction site.
Also: not everyone who lives here works for the State Department. There are lots of other nice people (a large contingent of people from India, for example), but some cause problems. There’s someone who vandalizes cars with blue spray-paint and, because this person has reportedly gone “off the rails,” the building hired a security agent to keep watch. I’m just saying, it’s not perfect.