On Sunday 2017-11-26, Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) just held its largest ever Language Matching session: 10 refugee students, 21 tutors, 1 South Korean student. Instead of standing-room only, it was sitting room only. During the week, we were on pace for a somewhat typical large session, with 16 tutors and 9 refugees signed up. Eunkoo Lee hasn’t checked recently, but we probably have more than 70 refugees on the waiting list to join the program. And with refugees saying at the orientation that they wanted to select several tutors, we decided to hold an emergency orientation session to accept five more tutors.

The question became: What if everyone shows up? We have been on a hot streak recently, with every tutor showing up. We could expand because Janice Kim has taken over as Manager of Track 1. In the past, 15 tutors was all that I could handle alone, in addition to my other many duties for TNKR, and I greatly regretted the time that we had 19 tutors at a session. It isn’t just the session, but the follow up when some tutors disappear knowing I can’t chase them all. Whereas I tend to be grumpy in teaching applicants how to fill out the resume, Janice is delightful, patient.

So we decided to have our biggest session. We only have 22 chairs, so if your figuring ain’t bad, you can guess that about 35 people (including staff) were going to have trouble squeezing into 22 chairs. So we made the decision to move all of the chairs out of the room, and to have everyone sit on the floor, like we were back in elementary school.

Support TNKRhttp://teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/donate/


Our matching sessions start at 2 p.m. The day started with a bit of a surprise: The first student arrived at 9:20 a.m. Yes, almost five hours in advance. She had been planning to return home for this winter, but when she learned that she had a chance to join TNKR in this session, she changed her plans and decided to stay in Seoul for this winter to study English intensively.

Why in the world would she arrive almost five hours early? It is because students choose based on when they arrive at the session. The really eager students can choose first each round. The second student arrived at 10:30, shocked that anyone had beaten her to the office! Last month a student had set the record by arriving at 9:50 a.m. On Matching session day, I typically arrive at 9:00 to 9:30 a.m., so I was LATE because of the really eager student on Sunday.

Before we had our own office, we could not be prepared for refugees to arrive early or to hold really large sessions because we were guests at other offices controlled by friends. Now we can tell the refugees to arrive as early as possible. Some have threatened to stay overnight at our office, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Those of you who still enjoy asking “how would you spend the money” have been able to watch us slowly grow from this being a hobby running sessions out of a business center (TOZ), to holding sessions at other organizations, to the TNKR office being my desk at the Freedom Factory office, to being officeless for a week, then finally having our own office. You are still asking that question even as we make magic with few resources. One day when we have money then we may really be able to do these sessions really well.


It turned out that the students were really eager! Refugees selected an average of 4.8 tutors each, which is well above our usual average of 3. Two refugees selected 8 tutors each. Some had said during the orientation that they would select at least 6 tutors each.

Number of tutors selected by 10 refugees


#Tutors selected by 1 South Korean


Every tutor was selected at least twice.

The Matching session was on Sunday. Monday, three students and tutors studied together.



When did refugees arrive in South Korea? (This is one of the most commonly asked questions about our sessions)

  • 2004 (2)
  • 2010 (1)
  • 2011 (1)
  • 2014 (1)
  • 2015 (1)
  • 2016 (2)
  • 2017 (2)

Feedback from refugees:

  • First, I feel grateful that volunteers are joining and willing to help refugees. I will do my best to learn and give back to society as my tutors have. I really like English, I have learned that it is important to learn English to be successful in adjusting to this society. Later I hope to go to a university.
  • I feel so fortunate that TNKR exists. Also I feel so happy to have the power to choose the tutors I want. I will do my best. I’m a freshman in college, I hope to work in a major hospital one day, but I will need to get a really high TOEIC score. First, I will need to get a English test score in order to graduate.
  • I need to start learning English because I will be preparing for college. I also want to learn English conversation because my boyfriend has many foreign friends, but when they meet, I am isolated from the conversation because I can’t speak English. I feel so frustrated because I cannot communicate with them. I have a car, I can move anywhere to meet teachers. Feel very grateful to the tutors who have their own adjustment difficulties in South Korea but are willing to help North Korean refugees. I will do my best so I won’t disappoint my tutors.
  • I have studied English for many years, but now I can see that I was just monkeying around. I have a lot of time, I will go anywhere to meet teachers willing to teach me. The tutors are my role models. Someday, when I am in your position, I will do the same thing to help others.
  • As a soldier in the North Korean military, I was brainwashed to believe that Americans are enemies. But there are so many Americans and people from other countries who want to help. I’m really surprised, this is really amazing. They are all good people, I will do my best so I won’t disappoint my teachers. I will also be studying at a language institute–I will study grammar there, and conversation with TNKR teachers. As an NK soldier, I was always taught that Americans were enemies. But feel amazed that so many Americans and foreigners are willing to help NK refugees. 
  • My major is business. English always comes up, it is difficult for me to understand. I am required to take English as a core subject, English is always a challenge for me. To graduate, I will need to have a high English test score. I have been avoiding it so far. Eventually I would like to go abroad without a language barrier, I want to be able to travel freely. I am touched that the volunteers are willing to give their time. Everyone’s time is important, so I am inspired, moved. to the volunteers willing to give their time to help NK refugees. I will make efforts to give back to the society in the future. 
  • It has been difficult keeping up with my university subjects because of English, many of the classes in my major require English. I am inspired by TNKR’s volunteers. I have heard about volunteering, but now I can really feel what it means, I am thinking about it more seriously. I will find a way to volunteer, I will find a way to do so in the future. I don’t have knowledge to share so I will try to volunteer physically. I also wish to freely travel around the world.
  • I studied in TNKR before, I am so happy to be back. TNKR is so great! When I was in North Korea, I had no experience meeting foreigners in North Korea. Even when I arrived in South Korea, I never had an opportunity to meet foreigners, so I was curious at first. I now know how important it is to learn English, so this time, I won’t run away from it, I will speak only English, not Korean with my tutors.
  • I am amazed by TNKR’s volunteers. I will do my best to study hard. I believe it is an amazing thing for anyone to be willing to volunteer their efforts to help other people. While I am not sure whether I will get to volunteer, but I will do my best to help others when possible. I escaped from North Korea because my dream was to travel around the world, especially the USA, the most powerful country in the world.
  • I am two credits short of graduating, so it is an emergency for me to improve my English. I learned grammar, but I need to learn how to have conversations. I have studied at language institutes before, but it is so incredible to me that I can choose the teachers. I am happy and amazed at TNKR’s program that gives me the power to choose my teachers. I will focus on English so I won’t disappoint my teachers, I really appreciate the opportunity to learn English.  
  • South Korean: Thank you TNKR, Casey, Eunkoo, Youngmin. This will be a great help for me. It is very hard to live each day. And I sincerely appreciate your willingness to help others, which I find very inspiring. My work hours are unpredictable, I start work at 4 a.m., so I’m often exhausted in the evenings, but I will do my best. 



USA 13
Canada 2
UK/England 2
South Korean 1
Dutch (the Netherlands) 1
India 1
Thailand 1


Reasons tutors want to join TNKR (and reasons refugees were so amazed):

  • I am interested in joining Track 1. I have been involved in education for nearly 10 years now, however, the last five years in publishing. So, I miss teaching. I’ve heard great things about the TNKR group. I guess it seemed like a good fit to get back into teaching.
  • I’ve heard a lot about the TNKR program during my time here in Korea. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I would relish the opportunity to help refugees succeed and grow in our community. I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to live and work in South Korea, and I would like to use my teaching skillset to aid others in doing the same.
  • I am interesting in giving some of my time to help those who do not have the same access to English education as others here in South Korea. I have been a teacher for almost 6 years – 5 years as an elementary school teacher in the US and I am currently teaching English at a hagwon in Namyangju. I enjoy teaching and encouraging students to learn and grow in order to have the best opportunities. I would like to work with this great organization to help North Korean refugees improve their lives and open new doors for them here in South Korea, through English instruction.
  • Bluntly stated, I have taught English to every language learning demographic possible. I’ve taught military classes, Buddhist monks, nuns, business executives, young adults and older adults 65+, kindergarten, high school, middle school, and elementary. But the most rewarding experience I’ve had in the classroom is teaching refugees. I miss the hunger and the eagerness a refugee has for knowledge. I taught a class of refugees for one academic term in the fall of 2015 (I can provide a letter of recommendation upon request). I was an unpaid teacher working with Tibet Charity India. Although I was unpaid, the gratitude and love I received from my students was more than enough. If I didn’t have student loans to pay, I’d probably still be there today. TNKR provides a unique opportunity here in South Korea—an opportunity that I would very much like to take advantage of.
  • Meaningful interpersonal connectedness comes natural to me as a lifelong leader, educator, and volunteer who, by virtue of circumstances, is in a position to give back to what I deem an underrated, worthwhile cause–one that I’ve been personally interested in for some time now. I’m a former Peace Corp Volunteer (South Africa), served in the U.S. military, and spent over a decade as an elementary teacher for DODEA schools on military bases overseas in Okinawa, Japan. I know how programs benefit from a core of committed individuals, versus a transient, floating only interest. I get it. Track 1 is probably a good fit for me. My family is new here and I am still “figuring Korea out”, but I have a “hit the ground running” philosophy and believe that I could be exactly what you may be looking for. Thank you in advance for your attention.
  • I have heard about this opportunity through the TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea) program. Teaching has become a recent passion and interest, and I would love to help the refugees get back on their feet and continue to prosper in this community.
  • I’ve been following the group for a while, both from the States and since I’ve been here in Korea. I’ve just had to get my footing here as an English teacher before taking on some volunteer work. I would love to join Track 1, as I truly believe that there is a lot of good that comes out of volunteering to help someone catch up with the modern world. Many North Korean refugees are already at a massive disadvantage, so being able to help them in this way is something that I want to make sure I do here in Korea. I know that the event has already passed for October, but I’m looking forward to attending an event in November.
  • I would like to partake in this programme because I believe that everyone should have access to free education and I want to make the world a better and easier place for those who are less than fortunate and don’t have that right to free education. I am also interested in the cultural exchange aspect of this programme as I am very interested in Korean culture. Furthermore I enjoy helping other people achieve their best.
  • I have lived in Korea and studied East Asian society, history, language, and culture for about two years. I am very fascinated with the current situation in North Korea, and I have wanted to volunteer to help refugees for a long time, but I wasn’t able to get the time off from my job. Now the time has come for me to leave my job and to focus on continuing my studying. As I will finally have the time to do it, I would like to begin volunteering. I met Eunhee Park about 2 years ago, and her story was so fascinating to me that I knew I had to get involved with refugee assistance when I could.
  • I love teaching and I am also interested in North Korea and its people. As someone from the UK we only ever see a very negative image of North Korea and know nothing about the people who live there or have left. I am also very proud yet humbled that someone who has overcome a difficult period in life is willing to learn my native language,
  • I attended the volunteer workshop held in October and the program is definitely an area of interest for me.
  • Teaching has always been one of my main interests, as well as languages. TNKR combines these two interests, and would allow me to build not only my teaching skills, but also my cooperation skills. Teaching North Korean refugees would also give me an opportunity to give me more insight on a different culture, as I have only ever taught American students. 
  • I am in interested in helping those who are in need. English is a powerful skill to have and I would like to share the ability to use it with others.
  • I have always enjoyed volunteering, and as an English teacher who knows what it’s like to learn another language (Korean/Spanish), I feel like I can be pretty helpful.
  • I think it’s really important to get the North Korean citizen stories out into the world so that we may assist those still in North Korea more aptly. This particular program through my research I have found to be very well organized and intent on helping. I think I am better suited for Track 1 as I am much more skilled in writing and tutoring as opposed to public speaking.
  • I always find volunteer work to be very fulfilling. I’d like to use some of my free time to help others who may need it. Being in Seoul, I have a unique opportunity to help North Korean refugees. I would like to help them have a wider range of choices by providing them with English skills.
  • I have tutored before in college and found it to be a challenging and rewarding experience. I am going to be in Seoul till January 15th and would love to spend my time here doing something worthwhile.
  • I feel it’s a privilege to be able to come to Korea and teach, and one way I can give back to the people living in this country is to hopefully enrich their lives through English, as this can be very advantageous, especially for North Koreans.
  • I have been studying in South Korea for four years already and have had opportunities to listen to speech delivered by North Korea refugee. Also, as a student of International Studies who is intersted in contributing to human capital and the improvement in well-being to refugees, I would like to participate as a volunteer under your organization. I believe that under track-1 program, I would be able to provide support and help the student with English skills in a customized manner upon student’s requests.
  • I would like to join Track 1 of the TNKR volunteering program, because I want to help the refugees with the aspirations that they now have the chance of attaining with help of this ambitious program. I think I can bring a useful experience to the table for those that want help, and I think there is also a great experience in this for me.
  • I have been volunteering to teach English to children while living in Korea for some time now, and I would enjoy the opportunity and experience to hear from North Korean Refugees and their stories. Also too share my experiences and what I have too offer in hopes that I can inspire them in life.

FUNDRAISING! The tutors committed to helping TNKR with fundraising. This could be the first group in TNKR history with 100% participation. TNKR Development Manager Oliver Brown has committed to help seed the fundraisers of new volunteers raising money.

Matching Group #66, Fundraising Commitments by tutors

Ask Family or Friends 9
run a marathon or another activity seeking sponsors 4
Organize an event (e.g., inviting refugee speakers), a fundraiser at a bar or restaurant 3
make an appeal to possible donors 2
Crowd-funding http://give.teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/en/fundraisers 2
a fundraiser at a bar or restaurant, make an appeal to possible donors 1

TNKR Development Manager Oliver Brown has pledged to seed each new fundraiser by tutors with 10,000. With 21 tutors, that would be a 210,000 won donation from Oliver. https://give.lovetnkr.com/en/fundraisers


New study teams

Refugee joining TNKR–she selected 8 tutors! She had two classes the next day.

He is ready to study! He also selected 8 tutors.


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