Teach North Korean Refugees began in March 2013 by matching several North Korean refugees who had been teachers in North Korea with volunteer tutors to help them improve their English. Yesterday TNKR held its 62nd Language Matching session. More than 300 refugees have chosen more than 620 tutors and coaches to study with. Some of the refugees have gone on to win scholarships, fellowships, to get jobs, accepted into college, give speeches and media interviews around the world, and to write books.

TNKR began as a chance for refugees to study English, but in late 2014, we divided the program in half to help refugees who were looking to tell their stories. Yesterday we held a session with five NK refugees joining Track 2 for the first time. Three of them are already in Track 1, and now feel they are ready to start speaking out. We had 10 coaches (including two who are already in Track 1) join the session (two had to cancel because of health and family issues)

Because we had 5 refugees and 10 volunteers, it was easy–each refugee chose two coaches.

A few notes and comments from yesterday.

How long have the refugees been in South Korea? On average, the five refugees joining yesterday have been in South Korea an average of 8 years. It is the dream of reporters and researchers to talk to refugees who just arrived from North Korea, but in my experience, they have very little to say. Refugees who have been here a few years have time to process what happened to them in North Korea and they also have something to compare it to. Someone who grew up in solitary confinement in a prison could talk about those many hours and years staring at a wall, but until they have been out, they probably don’t have much to compare it to.

How did the refugees find TNKR?

  • 4 from current and previous TNKR students
  • 1 from Casey Lartigue Jr.

Feedback from refugees

  • I am so thankful for TNKR, I hope that it will continue providing opportunities for even more North Korean students.
  • Thank you for helping us share our stories with the world.
  • I did not know the value of volunteering. Thank you for helping us open our eyes to the value of helping other people.
  • Thank you, TNRK and coaches, I will do my best.
  • I hope TNKR will continue to provide opportunities to many people.

We had 10 volunteers join as coaches.

Why are they joining Track 2?

  • Volunteering/desire to help others 4
  • Refugee or minority rights 2
  • Refugee family history (European, NK) 2
  • Interest in Korea 1
  • Against oppression

How did the volunteers find TNKR?

  • Facebook or Google 5
  • Friend 2
  • TNKR volunteer 1
  • Casey 1
  • Professor 1

Best quotes from volunteers:


After Matching, we had the coaches and refugees talk for a few minutes. We used to do this until tutors complained about it feeling chaotic.  But yesterday, with just 5 refugees and 10 coaches, we decided to give it a try. The coaches all said it was good to break the ice and confirm schedules. One day when we have an office with numerous rooms then we will be able to have each refugee go to their own rooms and to have tutors greet them.



TNKR staff

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