APRIL 28, 2004
Welcoming 800 international guests annually
Visitors bureau rolls out red carpet
BY ANNE BURKE
UCLA Today Staff
Gohar Grigorian stands at the ready as a charter bus rolls to a stop
at UCLA’s Westholme entrance. She is straight-backed, dark-suited and
nicely coiffed, with a cell phone clipped to her waist and a stack of
documents in the crook of her arm.
The bus is carrying a delegation of 11 Europeans who are meeting with
UCLA administrators and academics as part of a U.S. State
Department-sponsored visit to America. The passengers alight, among
them a police officer from Norway, a German politician and a
journalist from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Grigorian welcomes each with a
wide, warm smile and a `Hello, I’m Gohar, so nice to meet you.’
Grigorian knows better than most that you don’t get a second chance to
make a first impression. For the past decade, she has worked for
UCLA’s International Visitors Bureau, which each year brings more than
800 international guests to campus, eager to forge bonds with
professional counterparts and to learn about America from the vantage
point of one of its most storied academic institutions.
Recent visitors have spanned the globe, ranging from Afghan judges
learning about U.S. jurisprudence and Tunisian opposition politicians
studying grassroots democracy to Italian Ambassador Sergio Vento, who
took in the Young Research Library’s collection of works by the
Italian Renaissance book printer Aldus Manuzio.
`If they’re in Los Angeles, they usually want to come to UCLA,’ said
Grigorian, the program officer for the visitors bureau since 2002. The
bureau traces its history to 1966, when it was part of the
now-disbanded UCLA Visitors Center. The bureau later moved to Special
Events and Protocol and in 2001 became part of the International
As UCLA’s unofficial hostess, Grigorian makes sure that visitors get
face time with a faculty member or administrator in their area of
specialization. The European delegation, for example, was interested
in diversity, so Grigorian arranged a meeting with a leading campus
expert on that subject, Assistant Vice Chancellor Thomas
E. Lifka. From a small office on the 11th floor of Bunche Hall, she
works the phones, arranging the tiniest details, down to side dishes
on the lunch menu. Her only staff is a part-time student assistant.
`Gohar does an excellent job,’ said Napah Phyakul Quach, director of
exchange programs for the International Visitors Council of Los
Angeles, with which Grigorian works closely.
The protocol business is laden with land mines, but Grigorian has so
far managed to sidestep them. She keeps a book on multicultural
manners nearby and is a keen reader of body language who can `tell if
someone is going to shake my hand or not.’ For Muslim visitors who are
so inclined, she sets aside prayer time. When picking a menu, she
usually bypasses meat and poultry in favor of salmon.
Snafus are inevitable, though. When a professor couldn’t meet with a
delegation at the last minute, she frantically knocked on faculty
doors until she found someone who agreed to substitute. `The visitors
didn’t even notice what happened,’ she said.
But Grigorian’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In February, UCLA’s
work promoting citizen diplomacy won the bureau a commendation from
the State Department, which each year brings thousands of
international visitors to the United States for professional exchanges
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress