To get prepared for our Track 1 Matching session on September 17, we held small orientation sessions this past weekend. If you would like to join, apply here!
One of the refugees wanted to know if TNKR is a Christian organization. We explained that we are a non-religious, non-political organization. She wasn’t satisfied by our explanations about why we are helping NK refugees, then she explained why she was baffled:
I have seen people volunteer in South Korea, but most people volunteer just once. I don’t understand why people at TNKR volunteer long-term, with such a strong commitment to refugees.
She is not the first refugee to ask that. We had another say that she sees people get interested about NK after there is a big story in the news, but not long-term commitments.
Another refugee joining us discussed her troubles with refugee organizations. She said she was treated so badly at one of the organizations that she avoided refugee support organizations. Desperate to learn English but not wealthy enough to pay for private tutoring and at basic of a level to keep up in group classes, she began searching for a cheaper way to learn English. Then she was referred to TNKR(yes, by a refugee support organization, that’s just how desperate she was). She was skeptical about us at first. But then she kept seeing the photos of everyone, including refugees, smiling. Then finally she contacted us. Then being at our humble office, she realized that we were different from others.
Another refugee told us recently that a refugee support organization that was helpful probed about her so much that she finally stop getting assistance from them. Then she found TNKR and it changed her world.
I am always concerned about our reputation among refugees. Some things have been misunderstood. For example, we had another refugee who told us recently that he avoided TNKR because he thought he had to talk about North Korea and show his face to the world. But he kept looking at our posts, seeing that sometimes people had their faces covered by brochures, and sometimes they showed them. So he asked other refugees, and they said that TNKR doesn’t force any refugees to do anything. Then he studied us more, then finally decided to contact us. Then when he came to our office, we were careful about not showing the faces of refugees who were hesitant at all.
We have had some refugees come in who initially hid their faces, but after they began to trust us, opened up to us and the tutors. We have had some funny situations in which refugees said they were okay with unmasking themselves, but that we resisted until we were sure they meant it.
And then there are the funny comments! One refugee joining us said she wants to live in the USA. She stopped believing the North Korean propaganda about the USA. “Isn’t America your enemy” I asked? She responded: “That’s the regime’s enemy, not my enemy.”
Another one who just joined is worried that the tutors will be bored teaching her because she is at such a low level. We insisted that some of the tutors love such students because the tutors can really feel they are making a difference.
This refugee is a special case for us! She joined us in 2014 just three weeks after she got out of hanawon (our waiting list was much shorter then). At that time, she was an ABC level speaker, she refused to be photographed as being connected with our humble project.
But now… she teases me! She laughs when I say it is time to take a photo. I used to hide her face in photos, but she said one day that she was fine with us taking her photo, then insisted on it one day. It is great because she will come to us sometimes to also review her study materials.
Here’s another newcomer! She said many funny things. But also she was really nervous about speaking English. She has been on TV so she insisted that she is perfectly fine with photos.
They were having their first class today! Courtney has been in our program for several months. We had a discussion before her class, her comments inspired me to update one part of our program. This student prepares study materials for her classes, so it is really like a study partners rather than teacher-student pair.
We need tutors! We had a session yesterday, but we have a waiting list of 70 so we will hold another orientation on September 10, then the Matching session on the 17th.
Janice Kim (TNKR Academic Adviser) and Oliver Brown (Assistant Manager of Track 1) took more of a lead in this orientation session. Track 1 Manager Dave Fry is on the Injured Reserve now, but he will be back soon. From October, I expect them to be wondering what my role is in TNKR. 🙂
A TNKR volunteer dropped by the office today. Dong Yeon will be a translator at our upcoming Volunteer Workshop.