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2017-05-25 In-house tutoring: 2+2=4

The last two days we have been visited by two ladies who had a big impact on TNKR. In early 2015, I received an email from a young lady in the USA who wanted to be a summer intern with TNKR.

TNKR wasn’t even an official organization at that point, we were operating out of the now-defunct Freedom Factory Co. I made sure to downplay her expectations, to let her know just how humble we were, I was sure there were bigger and more established organizations that could provide her with a quality experience.

But no, she wanted to join us. She was so polite, calling “Mr. Lartigue,” and studying TNKR to find her role. She even read my rants in the Korea Times.

Christine Kim was our first intern, and she set a very high standard. Translator, editor, tutor, administration, she did it all without ever complaining even though she was a teenager, and teenagers are experts at complaining at and about old folks. She certainly had her opinions and would add them to the conversation.

Near the end of her internship, I received a Facebook message from a North Korean refugee who had heard about our program. But she had realized that she had a wait a long time before she could start studying. So she appealed directly to me. I had dinner with her and Christine, to get an understanding of the refugee’s needs. During the conversation, I suddenly realized that 2+2=4. Christine was tutoring refugees in the Freedom Factory office. We were developing a waiting list of refugees. Why not have tutors help refugees on the waiting list? That way, they could get English while they waited to join a Matching session. In-house tutoring was born just as Christine was leaving.

We continued in-house tutoring, first with teaching machine Grace Lee, then we put aside some cash to rent a separate office within the Bitcoin Center so we would have a place for refugees to visit as an introduction to TNKR.


Christine is in town for a short visit, she came to visit us. The student who helped to inspire in-house tutoring happened to visit TNKR for a feedback session with TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee.



Earlier today we had another refugee join in-house tutoring for the first time. She loved it! She said it was her first time to speak English with a foreigner. She had many concerns in advance about doing it. But once the class with Paul Evans started, she forgot all of her concerns and enjoyed it!


We still have TNKR tutoring from our Matching program! The study duo of Cherie Yang and Dave Fry met at the office today. They are two of my favorite people in the whole world. Cherie is one of TNKR’s Special Ambassadors, Dave is Assistant Director. Dave is not a professional teacher, but he is smart. At first, he worried about how he would teach three different refugees, but he found the way: Use his brain. He listened closely and observed, then figured out how to focus on each refugee. And Cherie is the same way with her tutors. She figures out their particular strengths, then connects that to what she wants to study.

One of our tutors, Yoojin Kim, dropped by the office to give me feedback about TNKR. It was great, gave me an opportunity to reflect on things. She has joined two different matching sessions, tutored three different studies, so she has had enough time to think about the TNKR project

Support TNKR.


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TNKR Matching 57: “TNKR are superheroes”

Teach North Korean Refugees began in 2013 as a hobby for its founders Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue. They were matching North Korean refugees with volunteer tutors willing to help them practice English. From its humble beginnings, TNKR has now had about 280 refugees study with more than 580 volunteers. It has been featured in both domestic and international media. Volunteers from around the world seek it out.

Yesterday 9 refugees, 14 volunteer tutors, and 4 volunteer staff members squeezed into the largest room at TNKR’s office for the organization’s 57th Language Matching session. There were so many poignant, fun, and inspirational moments.

First, the data:


9 refugees selected an average of 3.1 tutors.

14 tutors were selected by an average of 2 refugees each.

It means that refugees have a variety of tutors and the tutors are not burdened too much. So our formula of having refugees choose as many tutors as possible while asking the tutors to accept at 2 refugees each is working out quite well.

One refugee who is quite eager and has a lot of free time chose 6 tutors. At the orientation on Saturday, she had said she would like to have 5. Then she increased that to six.

One refugee chose four.

Four chose 3 tutors each.

Three selected 2 tutors each.


Of the 14 tutors:

9.5 from the USA
2.5 from South Korea
1 from Canada
1 from England


Three tutors are returnees, including one who has been with TNKR since December 2015. Two of them were previously tutors, one was a coach.

Their main comments after the end of the session:

  • Felt like the bachelor TV show.
  • That was intense.
  • It was a little intense, now I’m ready to do my job.
  • I was impressed by how much English they already know.
  • They are empowered to make decisions, that is a great thing.
  • It was definitely nerve-wracking.
  • This has all been super informative, I’m feeling pretty happy.
  • I’m happy and honored, and impressed this is so student-centered.
  • I will put all of my effort into this.
  • It was nerve-wracking, I felt like I was back in gym class when sides gets chosen.
  • It was touching, I’m pumped to get started.


Why are the tutors joining us?

  • I wanted to help NK refugees. TNKR is perfect for that.
  • I did research on refugees in the past.
  • I love to give back.
  • I want to help, I’ve been a tutor in TNKR before.
  • I attended TNKR’s last speech contest, the stories were amazing. After that, I wanted to join as a volunteer.
  • I tutored refugees before and I love languages, so this is a great opportunity to combine both.
  • I tutored refugees back when I was in the USA, I would like to start my own school helping refugees.
  • I don’t have a reason not to join. This is better than staying at home eating cereal.
  • I saw a video featuring Yeonmi Park, I then learned that she had studied in this organization.
  • My professor in my university in the USA recommended this program to me.
  • I am very interested in the NK situation.
  • I have family members who escaped from North Korea during the Korean war.
  • I have tutored refugees from other countries.
  • I love Korean culture.

Next, I will add some information about refugees at the session.

Support TNKR

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2017-05-18 TNKR presentation to Australian students

Thursday was one of those days we could really appreciate how much TNKR has grown. With very little money, we have created an NGO that provides practical learning opportunities for refugees and has gained respected internationally.

We have had more than 570 volunteer tutors, but just a handful have committed to us long-term. Of the 270 refugees who have joined us, the same is true, just a handful have stuck to us. Having people around us has taken a lot of pressure off us. And now a new thing is happening–we are no longer at the center of every activity.


TNKR presentation to Australian students

Two TNKR Ambassadors and TNKR co-founders Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue spoke to a group of MBA students visiting from Australia. Here’s our group photo after the session.

Some venues have standing room only. Ours included sitting on the floor and standing. My math isn’t great, but 20 chairs, 24 visitors, 6 volunteers=not everyone will get a chair.


TNKR Special Ambassador Cherie Yang was the winner of our fifth English speech contest, so now expectations are higher every time she speaks. And she meets the challenge!


Eunhee has gone from being anonymous to a regular speaker with great confidence.

The students had many thoughtful questions and said they learned a lot.


We had a full house!

TV stations often have a “Green room” where guests wait for their chance to go on the show. The TNKR green room is a study/storage/waiting room.

Support TNKR


Standing with TNKR

Over the past few years, we have had almost 600 volunteer tutors and coaches volunteer with TNKR. An important thing for us is having volunteers commit to us long-term. Last year Youngmin Kwon joined us as a full-time volunteer, taking on various roles (assistant academic adviser, project manager of the Bring My Father Home project, translator, office manager). More recently, Dave Fry has joined us as Assistant Director of Publicity and Professor Tony Docan-Morgan has joined TNKR as a Senior Fellow of Communication and Advocacy. The Professor evaluates speeches by TNKR ambassadors and speakers and gives them specific feedback. He has been teaching communications for 15 years, he is so good that I have been recruiting him to become my speech coach. He has conducted three 1:1 feedback session for refugees who participated in our speech contest in February. We want the speech contest to be a learning opportunity in addition to the other benefits.

The Professor going line by line with Cherie Yang over her prize-winning speech.

Feedback session 2 with another refugee who has competed in TNKR speech contests. After the session, he declared, “I learned so much, I think I can win next time!”

Speech feedback session 3: She said aspects of public speaking that she had never considered, that she will be able to use the techniques in her classes. She doesn’t show her face, but she said she has gained confidence in giving a public speech even though her English isn’t that strong.


TNKR discussion about our upcoming brainstorming session. Anna Martinson (seated) and Dave Fry (arms folded) will be leading the session. Spencer has joined TNKR as a fundraising intern and Chansook is a South Korean fan of TNKR who dropped by to volunteer for a few hours.


TNKR Assistant Director Dave Fry is a tutor, fundraiser, donor, motivator and office comedian who is helping us develop long-term strategy.


One of the important developments about TNKR is that refugees in the program have been standing by our side. The ultimate test of a program is: Do the people who are benefiting from the program have a connection to what you are doing? Are they willing to stand by your side?

TNKR Special Ambassador Cherie Yang has taken on a leadership role within TNKR. She is always ready to help, even shooting a promotional video for TNKR.

Joseph is one of the first refugees I met years ago. He brings us gifts and could eventually partner with us on a business project.

Support my fundraiser for TNKR



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[May 16, 2017] (TNKR) In-house Tutoring journal by Youngmin Kwon

[May 16, 2017] (TNKR) Teach North Korean Refugees In-house Tutoring

Youngmin Kwon, TNKR Assistant Academic Adviser, wrote: Had a great but challenging tutoring session with one of my new students! Her English level is still very basic, so I had to remain patient as she struggled to understand one sentence / expression / vocabulary after another. (* We are not allowed to use Korean. ^^)

As someone who did not join TNKR as a tutor, I am constantly amazed by how fulfilling each of these sessions can be. I have spoken out in support of the human rights of North Korean refugees before, but it was only after joining TNKR that I was able to form such close, personal, and direct bonds with my North Korean brothers and sisters. I cannot help all of them, but hopefully I am adding some real value to my students’ ongoing journey to find freedom and empowerment.

* Please consider donating!

#TNKR #Volunteering #WithRefugees

Tribute from Eben Appleton, TNKR Outreach Coordinator:

Youngmin, from one who rarely writes tributes, I must write one to you. First of all, I have always been aware of your dedication to Human Rights issues, particularly when it addresses the NK refugees. I have watched your dedication to the Freedom of Choice offered by you and the TNKR staff. Your patience in teaching does not surprise me. I realize you speak perfect English & perfect Korean. And I particularly appreciate the help you have given me with “automatic translations”. This feat is even more difficult than teaching English. I know that you are greatly appreciated by all, particularly by me.

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2017-05-13 “Hello Konglish!” TNKR at KOTESOL

TNKR presented “Hello Konglish!” at the National KOTESOL conference. TNKR International Director Casey Lartigue introduced the organization’s main activities, TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee discussed her findings based on feedback sessions with refugees, refugee Jinhee Han discussed her experience as an English teacher in North Korea.

We also had an information table. We were delighted that Leonie Overbeek stopped by our table, she has donated art work to TNKR.


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2017-05-14 “A Woman is a Flower” TNKR Global Leadership Forum 2

TNKR held its second Global Leadership Forum on Sunday May 14, featuring speakers discussing the lives of North Korean women. The event was co-sponsored by the Working Group on North Korean Women.

Lee So-yeon kicked off the forum by discussing the brutality that she and other North Korean women suffered in the military, such as being raped by military leaders. It was another reminder about a brutal regime that does not respect the rights of individuals.

Eunsun Kim, author of A Thousand Miles to Freedom, then discussed her escape from North Korea. Many of the attendees began crying when she discussed the conversations she had with her mother when they thought they might starve to death.

Lee Juseong, author of Sunhee, wrapped up the forum by discussing specific statistics related to North Korean women and calling on the South Korean government to do more to rescue North Korean refugee women from China.

TNKR Speech Fellow Tony Docan-Morgan kicked off the event, TNKR co-directors Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue briefly introduced TNKR, then after the speakers and Q&A, TNKR Assistant Director Dave Fry issued a call to action.

The room fit about 60, and we had about 70 or so in attendance, with a few latecomers having to stand.







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2017-05-04 New Volunteers, New Projects

Jenny stopped by the office to give us feedback about a new project idea. It is always delightful seeing us, she first joined TNKR in 2015 and comes back to us sometimes.

This was unexpected! One of the refugees we recently met in the UK came to South Korea on a short visit. We had a feedback session with her to learn about her education needs. Here’s my Korea Times column about our trip to the UK.

She couldn’t stop laughing when I said I wanted to take a photo with her. Then when she realized how I was going to shield her face, yes, that’s her laughing as we take a photo.

Here are some college students who want to volunteer to help us with office management.

Jeeyeon has been volunteering with TNKR since August 2016. She was in this CSR video done for TNKR by one of our South Korean volunteers. you can see her from the 3:30 minute mark.

These college students would also like to volunteer in the office.

Expert volunteers! Anna and Spencer are both joining to help us with fundraising and outreach!

TNKR  Assistant Director Dave Fry tutoring TNKR Special Ambassador Cherie Yang.

One of the refugees in TNKR was shocked to see my name in yesterday’s Korea Times as she was reading it. She sent this screen-shot.

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2017-05-03 TNKR at CDS

How delightful!!! Students at the Cheongna Dalton held an art auction as a fundraiser for TNKR.

The whole thing was amazing.

  1. They decided to hold the art auction to raise money for us, but they didn’t even tell us about it!
  2. I was looking for an article about TNKR when I came across the information. I was shocked and amazed.
  3. I contacted the school, the teacher organizing the art auction told me that it was really real.
  4. I insisted that we would like to visit after the auction was over to thank them. It isn’t enough to just have them send us the money.
  5. It was technically a holiday, but because it is an international school they were available. TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee and TNKR Ambassador Eunhee Park were available, so this is how we spent a large part of Wednesday.

Eunhee was at the center of attention!!!

Read more

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2017-05-01 “I can speak English now”

Yesterday at TNKR:

  • Feedback sessions with two refugees
  • International reporter visits TNKR
  • Refugee designs bag for TNKR
  • In-house tutoring
  • Children taking over TNKR

Feedback session 1:

One of the refugees who came by for a feedback session with TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee talked how much confidence she has gained since studying in TNKR. She had previously studied at a language institute but she felt lost in the classes.

  • She never studied English when she was in North Korea.
  • In South Korea, she had taken English classes at language institutes, but felt lost. The South Koreans in the basic class clearly had studied English, whereas she was at the very beginning.
  • She studied on her own, but wasn’t really sure how to study.
  • Then, she saw Yeonmi Park’s One Young World speech. She thought about speaking out, but because of family still in NK, she decided against it, but continued cheering for Yeonmi.
  • She found out about TNKR, then she began chasing me, asking me to meet.

She joined TNKR a few months ago, she has been studying with three tutors since then. She has continued studying on her own, but feels she has some guidance after studying with native and fluent speakers. She says that her friends are amazed (“envy”) that she has three tutors who are helping her to improve her English.


Feedback session 2:

When she first came to us, she only spoke Korean. She even seemed a bit suspicious of us at first. She hasn’t said it, but it seemed that she was wondering, “What’s the catch?” She began studying hard, then her tutor realized that he wasn’t helping her by speaking Korean to her. Then, a few few months later when their class was going to end because she was going to join the Matching program, she said the key thing for her was when her in-house tutor stopped using Korean to translate things for her. For the first time, she had to start thinking in English.

She says she is now active in her classes at school, that she has gained confidence her studying with two tutors.


TNKR student Joseph has designed a new TNKR bag (on the left). He is one of the first refugees I met, we lost contact a few years ago when I lost my flip phone, but he later found me on Facebook!

He said he likes our current TNKR bag, but he thought he could add our new logo to a bag that we could sell at events.


TNKR Special Ambassador Sharon Jang was interviewed yesterday by an international reporter visiting South Korea. Sharon has been with us for two years, it is always great to see her!

The reporter interviewed me also to find out about a bit about me.


TNKR super volunteer Youngmin Kwon was at it again yesterday!

  • He arrived at 6:30 a.m.
  • He worked on Mr. Hwang’s “Bring My Father Home” campaign.
  • Translation work when we need it.
  • Plus, tutoring a student. In March, he and TNKR Assistant Director taught the most classes by any TNKR tutors and have raised the most money since we launched a new crowd-sourcing site.


TNKR fundraising reports

At one point, TNKR was down to 37,000 won in the bank. Survival became an issue, it was going to be difficult to help refugees if we didn’t have money and we wouldn’t be able to expand operations operating like that.

After a year of asking volunteers to set up fundraisers or events, we tried something new: An all-in-1 website that would avoid the problems of most crowd-sourcing sites. February 1 was the official starting date, so it has now been three months, a good time to review our progress.

The great news: paying our rent and for basics will no longer be a problem if fundraising continues at this pace. With our basic necessities taken care of, we are thinking bigger.

We have had 56 volunteers and fans set up fundraisers on our behalf. It has been really encouraging to see people, sometimes strangers until they joined or reached out to us, attempt to help us grow. I checked all 56 fundraisers at the give.teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org website. So far, of the 56 fundraisers set up:

22 have raised money, 34 have not, many others are working on their plans.

Status Overall number Amount raised Average amount raised Average goal
Succeeded 22 $6,062.31 US

(6,930,131 won)

$275.56 US

(315,005 won)

$591.64 US

(676,332 won)

Failed to raise any so far 34 $0 US

0 Won

$0 US

0 Won

$225.89 US



  • A few fundraisers who haven’t raised money yet will be running in marathons or have set up special events coming soon. I will be so delighted to move them into the “succeeded” category!
  • Those who raised money on average set higher goals, were more likely to post it on their social media, and also were more likely to update me about their progress..
  • Some of the 34 who failed to raise money so far are now joining TNKR so they may also raise money once it is official.
  • A couple of donations are pending.
  • One wonderful thing: We are no longer alone. We now have many people who are raising and donating money to TNKR.
  • I personally have enjoyed seeing many volunteers struggle with raising money. Some had thought it would not be difficult, but they have run into reality. I hope some of them will understand that, in my case, it isn’t just posting one fundraiser, but rather, it is thinking about how we are going to create a sustainable organization.
  • Not everyone enjoys being expected to raise money, some do it with the enthusiasm of military draftees in the middle of a war.

The champion fundraisers so far are also the tutors who taught the most hours in March 2017:


NAME Amount Raised
Youngmin Kwon 1,520,000
Dave Fry 1,202,955
Lauren 483,990
Ryan 401,559
Annie 390,491
Tony 359,958
Daniel 346,731
Cherie 330,000
Joolee 260,000
Hannah 250,324
Sean 210,000
Eunhee 202,249
Laura 200,031
Ken 170,000
Amy 120,000
Taylor 110,004
Leonie 98,282
Celena 86,416
Jennifer 77,370
William 69,773
Dylan 29,998
Carmel 10,000

Want to help? Our next fundraising brainstorming session will be on May 20 from 3 pm at the TNKR office.

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

TNKR’s 2015 expenditures