"UCLA Today" Features International Visitors Bureau
Welcoming 800 international guests annually: Visitors bureau rolls out red carpet.
Published: Friday, May 07, 2004
[The April 28 issue of UCLA public affairs newspaper, UCLA Today, carries an article on the International Institute's International Visitors Bureau, under the title "Welcoming 800 international guests annually: Visitors bureau rolls out red carpet." The article is available on the UCLA Today website at: http://www.today.ucla.edu/2004/040428campus_visitors.html and is reprinted below.]
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VOL. 24. NO.13 APRIL 28, 2004
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 Institute.
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 and study.