meayrs

By meayrs

IH in BA

IH stands for International House, today a large network of affiliated language schools around the world. Just as every oak was once an acorn, so all language schools have to start at a given point in time. Establishing just when that point was can sometimes be problematic. Take, for instance, the case of IH Buenos Aires, in which I played a small part.

I completed my TEFL diploma in 1975. Returning from teaching practice in Barcelona I had taken the Magic Bus back to Dover; the bus had broken down just south of Lyon, but a few of the passengers decided to hitch north. Four of those aboard, including myself and a young woman from Buenos Aires, got a lift in the back of the Shah of Persia's racehorse trailer which took us to the UK, and spent a while together in North Wales until she had to split or face parental wrath and the cost of another air fare. It was love, to the sounds of John and Beverley Martin and the Incredible String Band. Good memories, but this is another story.

I stayed in Wales writing my dissertation. We corresponded. I decided to go out to Argentina, and looking around found that a new branch of IH was starting up in Buenos Aires. The Head of a bilingual girls' school in the Northern Suburbs had persuaded John Haycraft to let her finance this, and JH clearly felt this was too good an offer to refuse.

Initially John had sent out a young couple (Roger and Alison as memory recalls) but the sponsor was scandalized to discover that although sharing a home - and presumably a bed - the promiscuous young things were unmarried. In 1975 she could not be seen to be associated with this, so the couple were sent packing and John Haycraft sent out a new Director. This was David Thompson, who is still around, bless him.

At some stage that summer I visited John Haycraft in the labyrinthine rabbit warren that IH then occupied in Shaftesbury Avenue, where I taught a few demo lessons to prove my worth and was given a letter of introduction to David. My next stop was to be Buenos Aires, which I reached via Río, food poisoning, attempted rape and near electrocution in a very iffy youth hostel followed by a fifty-six hour bus ride to BA. My Argentine friend was waiting for me at the bus station - which looking back is amazing, as we had no internet, no mobile phones ... I simply have no idea how we coordinated this. Never underestimate the power of love.

The very next day I presented myself at Santa Fe 1713, third floor, where I met David and a guy called Mike Benedict, who had just come in from Ecuador. Another Englishman called Roger was also doing a little part-time teaching, moonlighting from St George's school in Quilmes, a prestigious HMC school then. Celia Walker was to join us early the following year.

I have good memories of those days. Expats and backpackers would turn up, stick around a while and move on - most [not all, definitely not all] were great people. Some of them were 'teachers', some just friends. We were all young and life was good. I particularly remember one weekend when I and my girlfriend and David and his painted the school from top to bottom to the accompaniment of endless beer, pizza and music. I think at this stage we were probably financing the school ourselves; I have no recollection of there being much money around then.

Things change. There was a coup in March 1976 and fearing for my safety (and stubbornly refusing to cut my hair) I married my girlfriend and we decamped to Venezuela. I didn't return to Argentina until the early 1980s, just in time for the war, and that was to start my own school. The sponsor, tiring of her toy and needing the property to pay for her daughter's wedding, evicted IH summarily and David and Celia progressed through a number of rented properties, acquiring respectability as they moved into ever more fashionable parts of the Barrio Norte. International House had become a proper school, had in fact become the school it is now.

Many years later I was invited to the so-called '20th Anniversary' of IH in Argentina, where the official history of IH Argentina was recounted to the assembled dignitaries with champagne glasses charged and HE the Ambassador in attendance. But let the truth be known; things really did start a little earlier than the official record states.

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