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2017-03-12 Hottest Seat in Town (TNKR Matching 54)

At our speech contest on Feb 25, we squeezed 130 people into a room fit for 80, with some attendees at the back of the room having to stand. Yesterday at our Matching session, we squeezed 31 people into a room fit for 20. That means that the late-comers had to sit on the floor yesterday.

There’s an old saying: “The early bird gets the worm.” In TNKR, the early bird students get to choose first. Our session yesterday was scheduled to start at 2 pm. We remind the tutors to arrive early so we can get started on time. But we don’t have to ask the students to arrive on time–they do it anyway! That’s because they get to choose based on when they arrive. The first student to arrive did so at 11:44 am. She was so thrilled! She still didn’t beat our record-holder, a student who arrived at 11:30. Eventually, we may have students sleeping out overnight, the way people used to do to get tickets to a music concerts or fancy tennis shoes.


It is also important for tutors to arrive early at the session–to get a seat! We had planned on having a small session, but Eunkoo has a tough time saying no with so many refugees lobbying to join the program and I end up agreeing to take more tutors even though it makes things more difficult for us. We had planned on a smaller session, maybe 7 refugees and 11 tutors, then it became 8 refugees and 13 tutors, then finally ended up with 10 refugees, 1 South Korean, and 16 tutors. It would have been 17 tutors, but one had to cancel at the last minute. We had 36 tutor applicants, despite our higher standards. Some were really eager to join, some of their self-introductions about why they wanted to join TNKR moved the co-directors so much that they couldn’t say no. But the problem with the session is that we only have 22 chairs, so some people must sit on the floor.

Every once in a while someone offers us a larger space, then they are less enthusiastic when they realize we have at least one matching session a month. Who can blame them? After all, what kind of crazy people would have so many Matching sessions per year giving North Korean refugees opportunities to choose many tutors to study with 1:1 face-to-face?


After the co-directors started the session, the tutors introduced themselves. Then it was time for the refugees to do the same.


The final tally:

  • 16 tutors chosen by an average of 2.2 refugees each.
  • 10 refugees chosen an average of 3.2 tutors.
  • 1 South Korean chose 3 tutors.

The tutors always tell us they are worried they won’t be chosen. We worry about that also, so happy when we reach the moment that every tutor has been chosen at least once. We then have them take photos together, making sure the refugees are aware of which tutors they have chosen.


This group was special in many ways:

  • One of the refugees who studied in our first session in 2013 returned! She has given up, mainly because her tutors spoke Korean with her, then she gave up when she felt she wasn’t learning. She admits that she “runs away from English.” She hopes she will be braver this time.
  • One refugee who joined our program for the first time needs Business English because she is working in a trade company. She can handle Chinese clients, but is a loss when English is the language.
  • The refugee who inspired our in-house tutoring program in 2015 returned! She was impatient to join the program, lobbied me directly, said she couldn’t wait for months, so we started in-house tutoring to give refugees on the waiting list a chance to study. She is now studying fashion design, she hopes to study abroad.
  • A refugee entering the Matching program previously studied in our in-house tutoring program as he waited for his chance. He chose five tutors! He said his English quickly improved studying once a week with a tutor who pushed him to use English at all times. After a while, he got used to using English only, even though he struggled.
  • One of the refugees said she is inspired by the tutors, she hopes she can teach English to North Koreans in the future.
  • One of the refugees adding a new tutor for the first time in a while joined us at the last minute because her tutor is having a medical issue. She said when she first joined TNKR that she couldn’t speak any English. I remember bumping into her in the subway, she called my name to get my attention. Then that was the end of the conversation. Yesterday she came into the office, bouncing off the walls, doing her best to engage me in conversation. What a change!


This is her second award from TNKR within a month. In this case, after her tutors finally sent in their reports from 2016, we learned that she had 79 classes for a total of 164 hours. That means 6.6 classes per month for a total of 13.7 hours per month.


We had a number of nice things from yesterday, such as one of our students donating a box of skin cream to us.


TNKR special ambassador Ken Eom volunteering a total of four hours to help at the orientation and matching sessions.


Former TNKR tutor Josh Speert dropped by TNKR with a nice suggestion for TNKR. He could see how much TNKR has developed since he was in the program.


TNKR’s next standing-room only event: Sungju Lee’s speech at the TNKR Global Leadership Forum

More TNKR events: http://teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/event/

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