Meridian International Center

This is Shirley Griffith. And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about the Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C. It is an organization that works to increase understanding among people from different cultures.

Imagine what you would do if you traveled to the United States, but immediately became lost after arriving. Instead of flying to Washington State on the west coast, you accidentally arrived in Washington, D.C. on the east coast. This recently happened to a Greek woman and her two children. However, the Meridian International Center was able to help.

Meridian runs an information center at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. The family arrived there and recognized the mistake. A Meridian worker came to the rescue.

He called another Meridian employee, Hassan Rateb, who spoke Greek. Mr. Rateb was able to reach members of the family living in Washington State. He then made plans for the visitors to fly there the next day.

The Meridian Center also helped the family find a room at a local hotel. The center even sent a representative to help the family get on the correct plane the following day. This kind of work is just one example of what Meridian International Center does for foreigners in the United States.

Meridian International Center was established in Nineteen-Sixty. Since that time, it has become a leading organization in the area of cultural understanding. Its purpose is to increase international understanding through the exchange of people, ideas and the arts. Meridian Center serves as a door to the United States for visitors from other countries. Its programs and special training services provide foreigners with knowledge about life in this country. In addition, the Meridian Center supports educational programs for Americans who are interested in world issues.

One of the more popular programs operated by Meridian is an exchange between professional workers. This program brings people together from all over the world. International visitors working in government, business or education can meet Americans who do similar work to exchange ideas and information. These meetings help professionals expand their knowledge and develop lasting relationships. Each year, more than two-thousand international professionals take part in the exchange program of Meridian International Center.

The center also offers cultural training for Americans preparing to work in another country. It teaches them the customs and traditions of the country. Foreigners coming to the United States to work or study can receive help in understanding American culture.

Meridian also runs an educational program designed to improve cultural understanding in Washington-area schools. This program is called "International Classroom." Representatives from foreign countries discuss information about their native lands with students. Often, the representatives bring things from their home country to the schools to show the children. They usually wear traditional clothes.

Earlier this year, Germany's B-M-W Group honored Meridian's International Classroom program with an award. The German car-maker also gave Meridian a financial gift to be used for more teaching about foreign cultures in schools.

Meridian International Center also supports art programs and international art shows. The center works with museums and cultural organizations around the world to present foreign art in America. Many of the shows travel to museums around the United States after opening in Washington. The program helps build understanding and support for international art in the United States. The Meridian Center also sends American art to foreign countries for people to enjoy. Music, dance, literature readings, and other cultural events are also supported by the center.

Karen Jacob is the Communications Director for Meridian. She says the cultural programs run by the center are very popular. The public, she says, can learn a lot about a foreign culture through art.


Earlier this year, the wives of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak spoke at the Meridian Center. They were in the United States for official visits with their husbands.

Mrs. Lee Hee'ho of South Korea discussed her family's efforts to support democracy in Korea. Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak discussed the position of women in Egypt. Both women spoke as part of Meridian's Professional Women's Series.

The center also recently supported an international committee that was investigating violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Former Senator George Mitchell led the committee. The international committee proposed measures to reach peace in the Middle East. Meridian Center worked with the committee in Washington, New York and Jerusalem.

The center also recently organized a series of training programs to improve humanitarian aid to Iraqi refugees. Exiled people from northern and southern Iraq took part in the training. They represented non-governmental organizations working to help the refugees.

In April, Meridian opened an important show of Iranian art. The show includes eighty-eight modern paintings by fifty-four Iranian artists. It was organized with the help of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. The show is the first major cultural exchange of its kind in many years.


Meridian International Center uses two interesting houses as its headquarters in Washington … Meridian House and the White-Meyer House. John Russell Pope designed both buildings. Mr. Pope was a famous American architect. In addition to Meridian House, he designed the Jefferson Memorial, the National Gallery, and the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Meridian House and the White-Meyer House are on a national list of historical places. An iron fence, trees and beautiful plants surround the center for privacy.

Ambassador Irwin Boyle Laughlin had Meridian House built in the early Twentieth Century. He purchased the land in Nineteen-Twelve, but delayed building the house until his retirement in Nineteen-Twenty. The building is filled with art collected by Ambassador Laughlin during his service as an American diplomat.

The ninety-year-old house still has the electric lift system, or elevator, put in when the building was first built. People who work at the center say the Laughlins had to run a wire from the city's street car system to power the elevator.

The Laughlins' daughter, Gertrude, lived at the Meridian House while growing up. The house became hers when they died. In Nineteen-Sixty, she sold the house to a private group that worked to improve international understanding. The group later became Meridian International Center. Today, financial support for the center comes from public groups, businesses and gifts from individuals.

The White-Meyer house is just next to the Meridian building. American diplomat Henry White had the house built in Nineteen-Twelve. Mr. White was a good friend of Mr. Laughlin. The two diplomats had planned to buy property next to each other.

When Henry White died in Nineteen-Twenty-Seven, the house became his son's. Several years later, the owner of the Washington Post Newspaper, Eugene Meyer, purchased the home. The White-Meyer home became part of Meridian International Center in Nineteen-Eighty-Seven.

A garden with trees and flowers surrounds both homes. There is also an area filled with water and rocks behind the buildings. The rock garden has become a popular meeting place for young and old visitors from many countries. They have gathered there because they have found the Meridian International Center opens the door to understanding world cultures.

This Special English program was written by Jill Moss and produced by Keith Holems. This is Steve Ember. And this is Shirley Griffith. Listen again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

Source: EXPLORATIONS - August 22, 2001: Meridian International Center
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