Teach North Korean Refugees began as a hobby for its co-founders back in 2013. We would occasionally match North Korean refugees with volunteer English tutors. Five years later, almost 400 refugees and almost 800 volunteer tutors and coaches have joined us.

On Saturday, we held our 76th Language Matching session. We had 17 tutors, 10 NK refugees and five TNKR staffers participate in one of TNKR’s most organized, most fulfilling, and fun sessions.

What made the session so special?

  • We had a good mix of returning and newbie tutors. Naturally, newcomers might think we are trying to rip them off in some way, but the veteran tutors can vouch for us.
  • All 17 tutors set up fundraisers. This is the first time in TNKR history that every tutor in a session has committed to helping TNKR financially. As staff, that is comforting for us, knowing that the volunteers aren’t just sitting back watching us struggle to keep TNKR alive.
  • The refugees were focused about their learning needs. We give them three opportunities (at the entry interview, orientation, and then Matching session) to sharpen their focus. So by the time they meet their tutors, it will be the fourth time they would have considered their learning needs.
  • Our solid reputation among refugees that many of them come in somewhat familiar with the TNKR process. That means they know this program is not for passive people waiting for tutors to do everything. In our early days, we had some refugees criticize our unorthodox approach, but now even some of those early critics have become advocates.
  • We also seem to be getting reputation in the expat community about our high standards. It has taken a while to get people to buy in to our high standards, but apparently the playboys and socializers have lost interest in us, giving us more time to build a solid program rather than dealing with their B.S.

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The first refugee was knocking on our door at 9:10 a.m. Yes, that is almost five hours before the session was scheduled to begin.

 

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People are now getting used to these early arrivals from refugees studying in TNKR, but when I mention this to people in other NGOs, they are shocked at how aggressive and ambitious the refugees are in TNKR. It begins from the moment some of the refugees learn about us, they are calling and messaging, demanding an opportunity to meet us. They receive the resumes of 15 to 20 people eager to teach them. Some are overwhelmed by complete strangers being willing to help them.

 

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A special feature of a TNKR Matching session is that we invite more tutors than refugees. That means that the refugees can select multiple tutors, studying with each tutor at least twice a month, while the tutors aren’t pressured to spend too much time with a particular refugee. In our early days,

In Saturday’s session, the refugees on average chose 3.8 tutors and on average the tutors were selected by 2.2 refugees. One refugee chose 8 tutors to study with. Yes, 8 tutors!

A few of the refugees also made it clear that they were ready to study with 5 or more tutors, so we put out the emergency call that we needed more tutors to handle the demand of refugees. Thankfully, we had enough tutors answer the emergency call.

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After we finished the Matching session, we then had a Wrap-up session led by TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee, based on her interviews with refugees. During the Matching session, tutors obviously couldn’t pay close attention to a particular refugee. But after they have been selected, tutors then need a bit more information.

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To thank the volunteers who engage in fundraising, we also give out gifts. The top fundraiser for this particular group was Jordan Brooks. We presented gifts to other tutors, but forgot to get a photo of them.

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The Matching session was over! Then it was time to say goodbye, although apparently not everyone was ready to go! Yes, that’s TNKR Special Ambassador Eunhee Park flying!

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