Many State Department families in the Washington, D.C., area for training stay at the Oakwood in Falls Church, Va. We’ve been here three times now – for A-100, ConGen and passport task force in 2007; on medevac for me to have Owen this year; and now for Italian and GSO training – and know way too much. And because I get a lot of questions from people coming to Oakwood for the first time, I’m going to share some of that. This doesn’t cover everything, but it will answer a lot of questions the Oakwood Web site won’t. (The Web site photos do show a lot, though, so I’m not going to post any.)
First, the apartments aren’t luxurious. I’ve seen furniture, carpet and kitchen appliances of various ages and conditions, and the bathrooms are more along the lines of Super 8 than Marriott. The wall colors are the same in every apartment – off white and an odd dark beige-ish brown – and are accented by interesting framed photos taken by Oakwood’s CEO. (I’m not kidding, they really are interesting.)
But there are a lot of advantages to living here. The obvious one is the State Department’s direct pay program, which means employees don’t have to file vouchers to receive the housing portion of their per diem. Other big advantages: The school system (Falls Church City) is highly rated. There’s a school bus stop on site. There always are tons of kids, infants through middle school. (There usually are a few teenagers around, but not many.) The complex has a great activities director, and she plans tons of kid events, as well as some catering to everyone. There’s a fitness center (and some wellness-type classes), sand volleyball court, pool and tennis courts. (One of the courts also has a basketball goal.)
And last, but not least, there’s weekly cleaning provided. The very nice housekeepers change the sheets and make the beds, switch out dirty towels with clean ones, clean the kitchen, take out the trash, and vacuum and mop. Oh, and clean the bathrooms. The cleaning of bathrooms (by someone else) is very important.
As far as furnishings are concerned, one area is seriously lacking: the kitchen. As one of my friends put it recently, what they call furnished isn’t really what most people – particularly those who really cook – would consider fully furnished. We’ve had some slight variations between apartments, but this is generally what we’ve been provided in a two-bedroom unit:
Six each of: dinner plates, salad plates (large for salad plates), cereal bowls, assorted flatware (never enough teaspoons), two different sizes of glasses, wine glasses, placemats and napkins. The placemats and napkins are an interesting orange color, which coordinates with some other accessories in the dining/living room area.
Various pots and pans and kitchen utensils. There isn’t always a nonstick skillet, spatula suitable for flipping burgers or pancakes, or colander. And the largest pot usually isn’t big enough for boiling an entire box of pasta. There’s a knife block, but the knives usually aren’t suitable for actually cutting anything. And I’ve seen some downright scary pastry brushes.
One very small, very flimsy cookie sheet; one very small (maybe 8-by-10) rectangular glass casserole dish; one round casserole dish with lid; cutting board; three glass mixing bowls; three plastic bowls with lids; one one-cup glass measuring cup; measuring spoons; coffee pot; toaster; ice cube trays (vary In quality and cleanliness); plastic pitcher.
What there isn’t:
Decent cookie sheets or any metal baking pans or muffin tins
Plastic cups or plates (somewhat necessary if you have kids)
A blender or mixer (I’ve been told you can ask for one, however)
Individual serving-size plastic containers for leftovers or lunches
Other things you might want:
Beach towels, pool toys and goggles; basketball; tennis rackets and balls; volleyball; sand toys. (Kids seem to be free to play in the volleyball court sand as long as no one wants to use the court for its intended purpose.) The pool’s generally open from Memorial Day weekend through the end of September.
Patio furniture. All the apartments have balconies (patios on the ground floor). Oakwood does seem to be able to provide chairs and small tables, but I don’t think there are enough for all the apartments. (We’ve never arrived to find them but haven’t asked, either.) And if you’re going to be here a while, you might want something less … plasticky. Plus, if your onward assignment is in a warm place, it never hurts to have some chairs that can be used outside.
Printer. The business center in the office has a printer/copier/fax machine (as well as a couple of PCs for people who don’t travel with theirs), but it can get old to have to go there every time you want to print something. And with only two stations for public use, sometimes there’s a wait.
Your own crib or travel crib. Cribs can be brought in (I assume there are a finite number available), but I’ve seen some rickety ones.
DVDs. There are cable-connected TVs in the living room and bedrooms, but the service is pretty basic. And the picture is horrible.
So, that’s my take on it all. Some will disagree, and some will have questions. Feel free to leave comments either way.