You’ve arrived in the US and of all the places you could be residing in, you’ve chosen the greater Washington, DC area. Good idea. So, what can you expect to find and experience?
JETAADC actually covers a wider area than you may realize! We have members in Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and even some in Pennsylvania and other locations. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough room to discuss every corner of the JETAADC territory. So, we’ve decided to talk about Washington, DC in greater detail (since it’s in the acronym).
Whether you live in the city, just outside, often make trips into the city, or only visit occasionally, the following articles by fellow JETAADC members discuss what to see and expect during your time in the nation’s capital. You’ll find useful information from the best way to pay for the metro to one of the most common questions people who work in DC are asked.
- Navigating Washington, DC
- Working and Living in Washington, DC
- Survey Summary – The Nation’s Capital
The District of Columbia is laid out in four quadrants, with the U.S. Capitol building at the center. This is Capitol Hill’s only real function of late. You will likely spend most of your commercial and social life in the Northwest quadrant. Most of DC’s well-known attractions are also in NW, including the National Mall. Don’t be confused; the only shopping you’ll do there is at the Smithsonian gift shop.
Getting around DC using public transportation is relatively easy. The subway (“the metro”) has 5 lines—red, orange, blue, green, and yellow. Trains run until midnight Sunday through Thursday, and until around 3 a.m. on weekends. If you plan on riding the metro, you’ll save money by buying a rechargeable SmarTrip card at any station with a SmarTrip dispenser (many as of July 1, 2012; all by Sept 1) or at most CVS stores. While you could likely set your watch to the train schedules in Japan, the DC metro is not as spot-on. Be patient.
The subway is also supplemented by a system of metro buses; you can pay for these with the SmarTrip card as well. Check out www.wmata.com for trip planners, maps, and more information. The DC Circulator bus is also a great option; its route hits many destinations across town.
Taxis are available, but beware; most don’t (yet) take credit cards. The ubiquitous red Capital Bikeshare bikes are also useful to get around. Once you purchase a daily, monthly, or yearly pass, they’re free to use for 30 minutes, after which an hourly rate kicks in. Note: hours-long bike trips (on the great trails leading out to Mt. Vernon, up the C&O canal, etc) can set you back a hefty amount. Try one of the larger rental shops for that.
Describing neighborhoods in Washington can be quite subjective. Here’s our sense of some:
Foggy Bottom caters mostly to GW students, and is also home to the State Department, DC’s only Trader Joe’s, a Whole Foods, a weekly farmer’s market, the Kennedy Center, and the infamous Watergate complex.
Georgetown is a wealthy, quaint community along the Potomac River and at the mouth of the historic C&O Canal. It’s unreachable by metro, but is walkable from Foggy Bottom and accessible by the Circulator. Georgetown boasts a bustling main shopping drag on M street, just south of the neighborhood’s namesake campus.
The fountain at the center of Dupont Circle marks the middle of a trendy neighborhood filled with bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. There’s a farmers market on weekends and a vibrant LGBT community.
The Adams Morgan/Woodley Park area is home to the National Zoo as well as the nation’s capital’s best dive bars.
U Street, and its surrounding neighborhoods, including Columbia Heights, is full of hipsters and more bars, clubs, and restaurants. The area has gentrified in recent years, and continues to.
Chinatown has shopping, restaurants, nightlife, and the Verizon Center, home to the Washington Capitals and Wizards. If you look hard you can also find a handful of Chinese people and restaurants.
Capitol Hill and Eastern Market, located mostly in the SW quadrant, are home to many a Hill staffer, and here again there are a number of bars and restaurants. The Southwest Waterfront is a redevelopment area located due south where there are markets, restaurants, and outdoor activities.
H Street Northeast is an area that has been said to be “up and coming” for years now, and it boasts some interesting bars that people talk about incessantly. A streetcar is currently being built to make the neighborhood more accessible from the downtown area.
Many who work in DC choose to live outside of the District—in neighborhoods like Friendship Heights and Bethesda in Maryland, and areas just over the border into Virginia like Arlington and Alexandria. These are more suburban environments, yet all still accessible by metro.
There are a number of parks, squares, and other interesting things to stumble upon in nearly every one of these neighborhoods. So, you should take advantage of blending in—no longer being a gaijin—and explore our nation’s capital!
Welcome to Washington! You’ve made a great decision to join many fellow JET alumni in one of America’s most interesting and dynamic cities! Whether you are returning to the area or new in town, DC is a great place for a recent returnee to land – with job opportunities in both education and international affairs, an active network of JETs and other young professionals, and more events and activities than you can imagine.
Newcomers to DC quickly discover that one of the first questions they are asked upon meeting new people is, “Who do you work for?” In a city where the federal government is the major employer and politics are always discussed at dinner parties, this is not only a quick way of figuring out on which side of the aisle a new acquaintance stands, but also an inevitable conversation starter. Don’t let this question scare you if you’ve come to town without a job, however. Use it as an opportunity to let others tell you about their work, something people really like to do in this town, and for good reason. Many of them are working for interesting causes they truly believe in. Share with them your passion and you may spark a connection for years to come. DC’s job scene is all about connections and if you are looking for work you’ll likely need to leverage yours to get your foot in the door. Brush up that elevator speech, connect on LinkedIn, and schedule some informational interviews and hopefully you’ll have an answer to the work questions in no time!
It’s important to note that not everyone in DC works on the Hill. The area is home to countless non-profits, associations, think tanks, educational institutions, consulting firms, contractors, international organizations, and law firms. Within them there are entry-level positions in program and project management, IT, and other roles. Think about all of the skills you gained from your experience in Japan and make a case to employers on how those skills will benefit them.
While work is a major reason many move to DC, there is also life outside of the 9-to-5. DC is big on happy hours (networking!) and has a decent nightlife. Washingtonians also take their weekend brunches seriously, so make reservations in advance! There is no excuse to be bored in DC and between Living Social and the Thursday Express, you can find endless unique activities to do, restaurants to try, and concerts to attend. If all that fun starts to break the bank, head to the Mall for free museums, monuments, and memorials. Another advantage to life in the DC area is that many employers close for federal holidays, which means free 3-day weekends almost every month – a perfect opportunity to get out of town and explore the surrounding areas. Skiing in West Virginia, a Broadway show in New York, historic sites in Virginia and beaches on the Eastern Shore are all just a few hours away.
- Attend (or volunteer for!) the National Cherry Blossom Festival
- Don’t take the museums, government sites and monuments that are in our backyard for granted (many are free too!)
- Visit the JICC and attend their (mainly free) events
- Work as a JET application processor
- Get outside DC—Baltimore, the beach, hiking, etc.
- Bonsai gardens at the National Arboretum
- The monuments after dark
- The modern wing of the National Gallery of Art
- Attend the rotating exhibits at museums
- Visit Great Falls
- Visit nearby Virginia wineries
- Mount Vernon on Sunday afternoons
- Go overnight to the Shenandoah Valley
- Washington, DC offers many events – do some research and pick what interests you most