Looking for advice on move to D.C.

So I’m moving to Washington D.C. to go to graduate school, and I’d like to know a little (or a lot) about the place, and the move, and the people; really everything.

I’ve never lived outside NM, where I live now, so I am expecting a bit of culture shock. What kind of culture shock should I be expecting that I’m not?

Where are good areas to live, and where are areas that should be avoided at all costs? I had a friend tell me I’d know the second places when I saw them, but there are places I’ve heard are nice that I’ve also been told to avoid like the plague.

I have effectively no experience with humidity, execpt that I hate it. For example, I just finished making a nice set of canisters, and have been told that they won’t be useful in the area because they are not airtight. Huh? My mother’s canisters have not been airtight for as long as I’ve been alive, so I never knew canisters had to be airtight. Why? What other humidity related issues should I probably be aware of?

What’s unemployment like in the area? I’m supporting my husband right now, but I suspect two adults and two cats are not going to survive on a graduate student stipend.

Also, does anyone have any experience moving art? I have a framed oil painting, an oil that’s just on a strecher and a pastel under glass that were all moved fine on my three-hour move…but I think I’d like a bit more protection than just a couple of blankets for a three-day move in a moving truck.

My last question for this post is: what other questions should I be asking?

I really appreciate any help I can get. I’m flying by the seat of my pants here, and I’d like to make the landing as soft as possible. :slight_smile:

Just recently ex-pat Washingtonian here (and homesick).

It will be more expensive than you’re used to. Accept that now. Unless your stipend is very large I don’t think you should expect to maintain any acceptable standard of living for four people on it.

There are both good and bad places in DC and in the suburbs. I suppose it will depend on which school you’re attending? Maryland? Georgetown? George Mason? Those are in different jurisdictions, each. And it’s always best to plan your location to be convenient to work.

DC has a good public transportation system with the Metro (subway) and the buses, so that’s a plus.

It WILL be more humid than you’re used to…but maybe not more hot in the summer. I don’t have a feel for temperature in New Mexico but it’s not unheard of for DC to break 100 degrees a couple of times each summer. But toss in 70%+ humidity and it’s a sufferin’ you’ll be going through. Make sure your place has AC. That’s a great boon.

In my experience apartments in the city itself tend to be cheaper than apartments in Northern Virginia (where I lived). I hear tell (but have no personal experience) that the public schools in DC are inferior to those in the suburbs. It should be easy enough to check that.

As for questions to ask? Hmm. Ask about local crime rates, school standards, how far it is to a Metro station and which line it is. That should be a start.

I love DC. It’s a great town to live in (and grow up around) with museums and theatre and such. Much fun.

Good luck!

Oops! Two cats…not two kids…

Two adults and no kids might be doable on a stipend…depending on how generous it is.

My wife and I currently live in the city, and I grew up in the Virginia suburbs. I would expect the humidity would bother you, but it may not be too awful. The biggest shock might be traffic. You need to be careful to live in an area that does not necessitate travelling through one of the many major traffic bottlenecks to get to work or school.

I am sure you will hear from a number of people that you should avoid the city. Most of that advice comes from a time when the city was a hellhole. That time, for the most part, has passed. DC is a very livable, and to my experience, pleasant place to live.

I travel extensively around the area and because of my job know both the city and the suburbs very well. Please don’t hesitate to email me and ask any questions you have and I will try to point you in the right direction, or give advice on the locations you are considering. Welcome to town!

Thanks, Jonathan Chance.

I appreciate the info so far. New Mexico regularly hits 90-100, but “It’s a DRY heat.” That saying is heard so much out here that it’s often out on those obnoxious T-shirts that are sold at tourist traps. :rolleyes:

Fruitbat, it is quite possible that you are my new hero. (Warning, I’m a bit fickle when it comes to heroes, so this will change often. But it also means you can become my hero more than once. :wink: )

Thanks. As I think of things I will both post and e-mail, depending on which seems more appropriate.

I am a Washingtonian (actually, Northern Virginia) transplanted to the SW, in Colorado.

Two things are going to drive you nuts, and you got one of them. The summers are not overly hot compared to NM, but the humidity is something else. Due to a summer weather phenomenon called a “Bermuda High”, very moist air from off the Florida coast gets pumped in on a daily basis from June until September. If you are outside, you will sweat. Not bead up, but sweat running off your face in rivulets. Its just the way it is, you just have to deal with it. Get used to the contrast between the outside and the air conditioned inside.

The second is traffic. Gridlock. Mile after mile of 10 mph travel during rush hour, which is about 3 hours long. I recently flew in to Baltimore, and drove to NoVa. When I hit the Beltway at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon, it took an hour at least to travel the 15 or so miles to my exit. Use the Metro (excellent subway system) to do most of your commuting.

Other things - Diversity of national origin. NM is diverse, but only three national origins (counting Native American and caucasian American). In D.C. you will encounter people from every country on the planet. Housing will seem way expensive. There is a definite “cultural cluelessness” about that residents have, bordering on smugness. Expect “You’re from New Mexico? How niiice” comments. When my sister in Virginia complained about the high cost of housing there, and I pointed out that Boulder was more expensive, she flat refused to believe me.

What else? Motorcades. Helicopters. Culture out the wazoo. Ethnic foods of all types. People go to the beach on weekends, not the mountains. Chili is meat, tomatoes, and beans, not Chile Verde. Arrange for a care package of Hatch’s finest in the fall.

If I think of more, I’ll post it.

Please feel free to ask. One more thing that I forgot, though you may hear otherwise depending on the field you are in, the job market is pretty good here. I don’t know of many acquaintances who are having trouble finding work, and there is a decent chance of landing employment pretty quickly.

Lamar Mundane, I’m already under orders to fill any extra space in the moving van with canned Hatch to hold us all over. I get the impression that I will be bringing it not just for myself, my husband and the friend who is putting him up, but also a bunch of people I’ve never met.

But you seem to be indicating that while I might get “How niiiice”, I won’t get “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” Or “You speak English very well.” Or “Did you need a passport?” I like this, as I’ve been on the receiving end of these questions/statements before. I won’t enjoy the “niiiice”, but it’ll at least be a change. :wink:

Fruitbat, thanks. My husband’s there looking for housing and work as we speak. He’s a little discouraged, so it’s nice to know that employment isn’t hard to come by. He’s just used to here. He applied for a job here in January and just got a rejection two weeks ago. He’d assumed that he didn’t get the job by then.

DC is really cool. I’ve been there three or four times. What really stands out in my mind is this - BAD DRIVERS! Last summer, my family and I went there on vacation for 4 days and in that time I saw 4 wrecks. And also, if your light turns green you better already be halfway through the intersection. I don’t think I’ve seen so many middle fingers and pissed off people honking their horn in my life.

Seconded on that. Drivers in DC just do NOT know how to play nice.

Just out of curiosity, are you moving into a house or an apartment?

There are zillions of apartments in this area, and some are pretty bad. I would highly recommend researching as much as possible online so you’re not running around visiting dozens of apartments.


are two great places to start; you can limit your results according to square footage, rent, whether utilities are covered, whether pets are allowed (!), and other amenities.

Oh, and you should be able to tell how close each one is to public transportation. For more info, check out Metrorail’s site at wmata.com.

Washington D.C. is one of our nation’s three “big ego” cities, up there with New York and L.A. The town’s main industry is legislation (tourism is a close second), which means that an entire cluster of service industries exist to help the people with the largest egos feel like they’re still the biggest. The District is a city populated by people who have no real representation in Congress (!) and whose city budget is legislated by the Federal Government’s budget (which is chosen by out-of-towners!). All of the congressmen, lobbyists, and lawyers believe that the city exists to serve them, and by and large, they’re right. The District itself is mostly poor neighborhoods; just outside its borders are some of the wealthiest white-flight suburbs in the country. Homes of any appreciable size in nice neighborhoods are unaffordable by all but the very wealthy. You’ll almost certainly be renting, and you won’t get nearly the square footage you’d expect.

The ego effect comes out in people’s public manner: the higher up people think they are on the food chain, the less likely they are to deign to talk to you. It comes out in the driving: your car is just an obstacle between them and their very important job. D.C. drivers do not understand that following distance can eliminate gridlock. In the same way that Americans in rural areas with confusing and non-orthogonal roads tend to talk about the best route somewhere, DC natives tend to talk about how to avoid traffic. It’s the communal headache.

Try to pick your location so that your commute is either (a) on the Metro or (b) “against” the flow of traffic. That means learning The Beltway. The Beltway is a loop of interstate, and a horribly inefficient way to bypass the city. Since I-495 East eventually turns South and then West, it makes more sense to call the Beltway’s two directions the “Inner Loop” and “Outer Loop.” Traffic flows from major highways into the city in the mornings (I-66, I-95, I-270, I-295) and tends to flow asymmetrically. For example, from I-95 until just past I-270, the Outer Loop is a mess in the mornings (and the Inner Loop at night). So if your job is down around the southwest side of the Beltway, then you want to live further south of it. If you attend College Park, look for housing that doesn’t require you to take the Outer Loop to classes. If you are at Georgetown or GWU, avoid the George Washington Parkway. And so on.

Alright, some notes on housing: I rent a two-bedroom, 1100 sq. ft. apartment in a nice neighborhood for about $1200/mo. I remember the sticker shock well, because in Dayton, I got the same thing for $600/mo. including utilities, in an upscale neighborhood, with a view of a golf course. My new place is less than a mile from two major commuter routes, right next to a Metrobus stop, and cozy. I consider it a nice neighborhood, but apparently the fact that it’s not a “white” neighborhood scared a lot of “desirable renters” (that’s code for white folk) away and knocked down the demand and the price. If you don’t mind your neighbors speaking Senegalese, French, Cuban Spanish, or Laotian (and also don’t mind the occasionally pungent smells of various spicy dishes cooked on Weber grills) you can find pretty good housing for a pretty good deal. Expect to pay extra for pets, as much as $200/mo., because the owners know you won’t get rid of the cats, and they know you need a roof.

It’s not as bad as I make it sound, but I don’t want you to be horrified when you settle in. Plan ahead, and be careful about not choosing a miserable commute, and you should be fine.

dantheman, I’m moving into whatever hubby ends up choosing for us, as he’s out there looking for housing and job. I’m here packing us up and working and praying that we don’t end up in a place like his college death trap or my college death trap. I’d like a house, but I suspect we’ll be in an apartment. We’ve already started looking at rent.com, but I’ll check out apartments.com also. Also, thank you for pointing me to the Metrorail’s site.

Jurph, I’ll pass all your recommendations on to Mr. Kangaroo. Unfortunately, he does not have a job at this point, so there’s a reasonably decent chance we’ll end up in a place that is no good for his commute. Here’s hoping.

I am kind of totally freaked out by this. I’m moving in about three weeks, and I’m not at all a big city gal. I figure it will all work out though. But man, I hate the on edge feeling I have right now.

Another question, and this one is a bit odd. I have a large teddy bear with a broken seam in the back, does anyone know of teddy bear repair shops in the area? The place I tried to get him repaired in Albuquerque wouldn’t do it, because I didn’t get him there.

Thanks again.

The unemployment rate in the Washington area is rather low. Your husband should have no problem finding a job. What does he want to do? I’d say that he does need to get a job though. I can’t imagine that the two of you can live here (or anywhere else) on a grad student’s pay. I could just barely scrape by living by myself while in grad school on a teaching assistant’s pay, and that was in another city that was cheaper to live in.

What university are you going to attend? There are neighborhoods that are reasonably cheap (for this area) to live in. I live in an air-conditioned two-bedroom apartment for $893 a month. You got to get away from the “It’s only a nice neighborhood if it’s nearly all white” mentality though. I’m not sure why it’s necessary to mention that you won’t be able to afford to rent a whole house. Do grad students couples normally expect to rent (let alone to own) a whole house?

For what it’s worth, I have never found the Washington area to be pretentious. By living in a relatively cheap neighborhood just within the Beltway, I have been able to spend most of my time in a place where I could live decently but not expensively, and yet anytime I want to I can drive ten to fifteen miles and visit all the good movie theaters, restaurants, and bookstores I want to. Yes, all the all the tourist attractions in D.C. are nice (and nearly all free), but how much time are you going to have to visit them as a grad student.

BlueKangaroo writes:

> I’m moving in about three weeks, and I’m not at all a big city gal.

I grew up on a farm. It’s possible to learn to live in another environment. Heck, it’s fun to learn to live in another environment. Who wants to spend their entire life in the same place or even in only a narrow spectrum of places?

You could also check http://www.stationmasters.com/, which should have even more-detailed maps of the areas surrounding the stations; that might help you see what’s close to the train stations, residence-wise.

Have you used the Salary Calculator?

Shouldn’t be taken as Gospel, but it will give you an idea on the finances – as will the Washingtonpost.com Real Estate section, plug in and get real time current rents.

I agree with all that has been said here: bad traffic, ideally use metro for everyday transportation, no way for you folks to do this on a grad asst. salary.

I guess that there are 2 things that I can think of to add – almost everyone will be from someplace else, it is pretty transient, diverse but more than that – you won’t have much trouble fitting in. There is a ton of free fun stuff to do, Museums, on the National Mall - it is a great place to be young and free and broke.

You will do fine, more than fine really – don’t worry

BTW Here are Teddy Bear Repairs In Richmond and near Baltimore
Both inside an hour from “DC” depending where you land

Okay, in order.

Wendell, my husband has two Bachlor’s Degrees, on in Physyics and one in Math. He has a lot of applications out and I’m mostly optimistic about things.

I mentioned that I didn’t think we could afford to rent a house because dantheman asked. Here in NM, it’s perfectly reasonable for grad students to be able to rent a house, from what I’ve seen. This does not seem to be the case in the D.C. area, especially not around American University, which is where I’ll be.

As for a nice neighborhood having to be mostly white, I don’t think that nor do I think I’ve implied that. Others have pointed out that some landlords may think this, but as long as my neighbors are cool with me, I’m cool with them.

In response to your last post, I didn’t say I wouldn’t have fun. I said that, in my experience, I’m not a big city person. This could change. It might not. But I think it’s impossible to expect somebody to move away from everything that’s familiar and not have some apprehension. I’m nervous. It’ll pass, but that’s the way it is right now.

dantheman, thanks for another good link.

jimmmy, you are now sharing “hero” status with Fruitbat. I have been trying to get this poor bear fixed for a few years now.

And to all, thanks for the vote(s) of confidence.

Doh. I meant Physics! Not Physyics. Yuck!