Alumni Success Story: Raffi Elliott (M PSIA ‘15) Successfully Combines Web-Entrepreneurship and News Correspondence
The American University of Armenia (AUA) alumnus Raffi Elliott (M PSIA ‘15) is the founder of GetTreated.co, a digital booking platform for medical tourists. He also writes articles on the political and socioeconomic developments in Armenia for Abaka News and the Armenian Weekly, two Diasporan media outlets.
Tell us about your origins. Why did you decide to settle in Armenia?
I was born in Montreal, Canada. My mom is Armenian, born in Syria, and my dad is Canadian of (mostly) Irish ancestry. I moved to Armenia permanently at the end of 2011 and I have been here ever since. Two primary reasons motivated my decision. Firstly, I had long considered living in Armenia for patriotic reasons and for the preservation of my Armenian heritage. Secondly, after graduation, I was looking for a challenge where my particular set of skills and input would make a difference. At that time I had earned a degree in political science from the University of Ottawa. With such a diploma in hand, my career prospects involved either government work, or local lobby groups and NGOs. I felt that I could have a larger impact in Armenia. In pursuit of that goal, I took a job as a research fellow for a Brussels-based think-tank called European Friends of Armenia. The contract was for one year. During this time, I met my future wife and stayed.
Compare the experience you had at the University of Ottawa with the one at AUA.
In my first semester at AUA, I quickly noticed that I had an advantage over my local peers, primarily because the system was very familiar to me. Many of my classmates, who were used to the post-soviet Armenian education system had more difficulty getting used to an American-style university system. It took them longer to adjust to the rigor of the AUA curriculum. As a graduate from the University of Ottawa, this setting was (ironically) more familiar to me, a foreigner, than my local friends.
As far as the University was concerned, I think it met my expectations for a western-style liberal arts college. The teaching was very professional. Many of the professors were pretty much experts in their fields. And, of course, the added advantage was being able to pursue a western, English-language, education while being in Armenia.
My only concern was the lack of narrow specializations available in the program. However, I understand that a university of AUA’s size has to make due with limited resources and offer a more general education. I really liked the individual approach, the friendly relationship between faculty and students, and their willingness to be flexible. I recall one instance when I was still considering an application to the University, initially with the intention of pursuing an LL.M. degree, I wished I could combine it with an M.A. in Political Science. Though such a program didn’t exist at the time, I was surprised at how willing the faculty was to create such a curriculum just for me. Though I did not pursue that at the end, the mere fact that they were eager to meet my educational needs was impressive. This would never happen anywhere else.
Tell us about GetTreated.co medical travel company.
I started GetTreated.co in 2014 which has since grown to become the largest medical tourism company in Armenia. People searching for medical treatment travel to Armenia primarily for dental care, plastic and lasik surgeries. I actually started GetTreated.co before applying to AUA and for a while I was doing both. The Idea came about when I had my own experience with medical treatment here. I heard on many occasions that Armenia has very good doctors and that I should come to Armenia for my medical treatments. Armenia has great potential as a medical tourism destination. Since coming here, I discovered that everybody loves to talk about potential and not too many try to harness that potential. So I examined the market a bit closer, figured out what qualifies as a “good doctor,” what it means to be a “bad doctor,” and what criteria western patients would be looking at to choose to come to Armenia. Then I signed partnership agreements with clinics that I found to be the best and built a digital platform that was meant to solve three issues for medical tourists: simplicity, safety, and security. Basically, the platform allows users to find their own doctor, learn about the prices beforehand, and it acts as a guarantee for them. They make payment via the platform and then my company pays out to the clinics, hospitals, and hotels that have provided the services.
What is it like to be a polyglot? How does it help you in your profession?
I have three native languages – English, French, and Armenian. On top of that I learned Russian here and Spanish when I was in high school. Having three native languages, in particular, helps me a lot because I think differently in each different language. My outlook is broader as well. Being able to speak several languages not only helps me professionally but it also helps me better understand subject matter and the people I deal with. Languages shape world-views. Here is a basic example: a fork has a feminine gender in French (une fourchette) yet in Spanish, it’s male (un tenedor). What makes French-speakers think of forks as women and hispanophones imagine male personalities is beyond me, but these nuances might not be apparent to those who only speak one language. I understand Armenians here better on a fundamental level because I speak Armenian. I get their expressions, the double-entendres, as well as the historical and cultural context of the words they use. This creates a unique bond, since humans work better with people who they think resemble them. Quite a few Diasporan Armenians who come to Armenia want to experience the local Armenian culture. Not speaking the language creates a certain barrier. Unfortunately, they’re missing out on a lot of what makes Armenians well… Armenians.
Tell us about your experience as a writer and news correspondent.
I am a businessman by necessity, but my passion has always been political science and related topics. I have always been fascinated by the way people think, behave as human beings, the way public policy is fashioned and how international relations are developed. At first, I started writing on my own private blog. Also, I used to write editorials for other publications. Now based in Armenia, I realized that the Diaspora had a very distorted understanding of what Armenia was like. I figured that I could help open their eyes to the objective realities (both good and bad) of this country in a language that they were familiar with. Eventually I started writing as a correspondent for Abaka News, a community newspaper for the Armenians in Montreal, Canada. I offered them exclusive articles from Armenia in exchange for advertising my business on their website. Later I was contacted by the editorial staff of the Armenian Weekly, another English-language Armenian newspaper based in Massachusetts, to start contributing a column for them. My weekly column is called Notes from the Pink City. In it, I discuss topical matters in Armenia’s political or socio-economic life and share my thoughts on them. My role at the Weekly has since expanded. I now also contribute a weekly news piece.