FINDING ADVENTURE IN ARMENIA
Cherry Hill Courier Post
April 9 2012
Greg Bilazarian appeared to be building a career as a TV reporter,
chasing stories at stations in Ohio and Florida.
But the Mount Laurel native was looking for something different –
and he’s found it almost 6,000 miles from home.
Bilazarian, 28, is living in Armenia, helping to build an online
media outlet providing news of the Maryland-size nation.
Now, if you’re like me, the question occurs:
Where the heck is Armenia?
Well, it’s south of Georgia – but not that Georgia.
It’s also wedged between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Yes, that Azerbaijan.
And, for now, it’s right where Bilazarian wants to be.
“There is an excitement being in a developing country that you don’t
always feel in many parts of the United States,” he said in an email
interview last week.
He noted Armenia – although a historic culture with its own language
and alphabet – is a relatively new nation. The country broke free of
the Soviet Union in 1991.
“So things are changing rapidly,” Bilazarian wrote from the capital
city of Yerevan. “A very small group of people can make major changes.”
The Lenape High School graduate arrived in May 2011 through a program
that recruits young foreigners of Armenian descent. Participants
provide volunteer service for two months, while the program –
Birthright Armenia – covers expenses and provides free language
classes and other support.
“I had quit my job as a television reporter about four months before
and was looking for a bit of an adventure,” said Bilazarian.
The newcomer said his Armenian now is “functional,” but that some
areas, like transportation, remain a challenge.
“All the signs are written in Armenian letters, there is no map,
and asking the bus driver to stop is the most intimidating thing in
the world,” he told me.
And while the local cuisine is tasty, attempts to import exotic dishes
can fall flat.
“I ordered a ‘Philly Cheesesteak’ one day here,” he said. “It came on
a circular bun with some weird cheese and hardly any meat. I wanted
to cry. Actually, I think I did cry.”
But Bilazarian, who signed a one-year contract at the end of his
volunteer stint at the website, finds much to like in the “incredibly
beautiful and unique” nation.
“This country changed my life significantly for the better,” he said.
“I can’t believe the ways I’ve grown personally and the breadth of
adventures I have experienced.”
Bilazarian plans to return to the United States in August, when he’ll
begin classes at Yale University’s School of Management. Eventually,
he hopes to become an entrepreneur “creating businesses in Armenia.”
But Bilazarian believes he’s already learned a key lesson.
“I took a huge risk leaving a solid career in the US with no guarantees
except a plane ticket and a bed to sleep [in] for two months,” he said.
“I would just encourage anyone who is not happy (or feels stagnant)
in their current situation to take that big step.”
But, he adds, “It doesn’t have to be as drastic as mine.”
From: A. Papazian