Eunhee Park speaking at TNKR’s 8th English Speech Contest, on August 25, 2018.

I came to the office at 3 am, to make sure I wouldn’t arrive at the office late today. That’s because we are having Matching session #81, and the students in this group made it clear that they would be arriving early.

The Matching session will start at 2 pm. The first refugee who arrived was knocking on our door at 9:15 a.m. The second refugee arrived at 9:30. The third one arrived about 15 minutes later. Yes, three students have arrived more than 4 hours in advance.

One of the students said that he hopes to select 10 tutors. He has already made his schedule and he showed me all of the research that did to get prepared for today. He checked all of the resumes in detail, did a complete breakdown on tutor availability, and has his list of tutors he hopes to be able to select.


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* The Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR) is holding its 80th language matching session. The sessions almost always start at 2 p.m., refugees get to choose based on when they arrive at the session. The refugee who arrived this morning knocked on our door at 8:45 a.m. Yes, that’s more than 5 hours in advance.

* The refugee finished her part-time job at 2 a.m., left her home this morning at 7:30 a.m., arrived at our office at 8:45 a.m. We tell them not to arrive before 9 a.m., so we held her official registration until 9 a.m., in case someone else arrived at the official approved time.

* Yesterday we held six hours of sessions in three different meetings–a fundraising workshop led by Maureen Byrne, a social media planning meeting led by TNKR co-founder Casey Lartigue, then a book club discussion featuring refugee dissident Kang Chol-Hwan (translation by Youngmin Kwon). And now we are back, at the TNKR office early this morning.

We are holding this session today against my will, I knew it would be a mistake to hold a matching session in the middle of August because so many people are on vacation or not paying attention. Plus, we really need to be focused on our upcoming speech contest. Today will be the smallest matching session, assuming no one cancels. As I quoted activist Howard Fuller in a recent Korea Times column: “If you are planning a meeting for 100 people, but only three people show up, then you’ve got three people to work with.”

Why are we holding this Language Matching session? It is because of North Korean refugees lobbying TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee (who then began pestering me). We have now had almost 400 refugees study in TNKR–but many ask to return. While it would be better for us to keep bringing in new people, we try to make space for those refugees who want to return. It gives TNKR’s overworked staff even more work to do, but when a refugee who has barely slept after working at a part-time job knocks on your door because she wants to be the first to choose tutors? The squeaky wheels also get the grease in TNKR.

She just watched Thae Yong-ho’s video about TNKR, and said, “He really understands TNKR.”

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Why North Korean defectors learn English
The Korea Times
by Casey Lartigue Jr.
2018-08-12

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