2016-11-23 TV executive visits TNKR

TNKR has gotten a lot of media in the last year. Check it out here!

Today we were visited by a TV executive who wanted to learn more about TNKR. We are definitely not a sexy organization, we avoid socializing or big splashy events with more style than substance. We stay out of politics, pretty much we just do our thing.

A colleague who noticed how often we are in the media asked me about our media strategy. I said: We just do our work. We rarely reach out to media. I learned a long time ago that reporters are skeptical, view requests as advertising. I tend to be skeptical of reporters, even more skeptical than they are of me.

Despite that, we occasionally get media. People often ask me about the value of media coverage. My response: We can build a track record. People can see how we have been growing, organically, without a financial sponsors, and while staying out of politics.


2016-11-23 Meeting with “Little Big Heroes” fan

Had a good, fun and serious meeting with a young lady who has been following TNKR activities, but learned more deeply about us from the tvN special. We have been in contact since then, today was our first chance to finally meet.

I know people say that South Koreans don’t care, but I meet so many who are go out of their way to help North Korean refugees. She wrote a lovely note to us after seeing the show.

tvN http://ch.interest.me/tvn/vod/View/166672 (registration required, or leave a message for an authorized link).img_5250img_5249



2016-11-22 I’m a sitting duck–during hunting season

For the first three years of TNKR’s existence, we were mobile. We had our orientation sessions in one location, our matching sessions in another. We moved to different offices. One of the refugees told us that we looked like refugees,

Then our world changed: We moved to our own office on July 8, 2016. Before, refugees and tutors who wanted to meet me would have to catch up with me–in Itaewon, or Yoido, or Bangbae, or wherever I happened to be.

But now? I’m like a sitting duck during hunting season! Several refugees and potential volunteers have just shown up at our office, without an appointments. Among refugees, the word is out: TNKR has its own office!

Refugees in our in-house tutoring program have first dibs on using the study space here, but other refugees in the matching program who have already gone though in-house tutoring are asking to continue studying here, and other TNKR veterans are also asking. It is better than coffee shops because there is no loud music, loud customers, we have an atmosphere conducive for studying, plus they don’t have to pay for the room and they can get free coffee served to them by Youngmin Kwon. 🙂

TNKR National Director Lee Eunkoo says that she has also been receiving phone calls directly to her personal phone.

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What Should We Do?

Random Thoughts

  • Several refugees have called our office and directly to my phone within the last few days, asking how they can join TNKR. Yes, they’ve called. And yes, called directly to my personal phone. I don’t welcome these calls because I must give them the bad news that we have a long waiting list. What should we do to a) get refugees off the waiting list while b) keeping quality control for those who do join us?
  • We want to open our office for more tutoring so refugees and tutors don’t have to study at cafes (loud music, can’t always get good seats, other customers can be loud, etc.) or search around for other locations. In addition to volunteering, tutors often share costs with refugees for drinks at cafes or to rent study rooms. Our office can handle only a few students at the same time–and that bumps into our planning meetings and activities. How can we get to the point that we can offer more study space for refugees and tutors?
  • I failed in my attempt to attract enough money to TNKR. Now it seems so naïve when I consider a few years ago that I thought we could build an organization in which volunteers gave their time but also helped us raise enough money to build an organization. Some don’t even like to read my reminders that we are a poor organization. TNKR’s co-directors have been called “Little Big Heroes,” but we clearly are not fundraisers. Some tutors and volunteers raise money for us, but we can’t expand with only a handful of people donating occasionally. We don’t know which doors to knock on, which people to ask to get more money, or how to tell our story in a compelling way.
  • We have tried Skype, but it has failed (those tutors have been less reliable, less connected to us, less likely to fill out reports, more likely to skip class). So how can we provide for more face-to-face meetings between refugees and tutors in quality places?
  • We have gotten suggestions we have rejected, such as:
    • Become more political. Money in South Korea moves in the direction that politicians wish it to go. By being non-political, we lose out on many opportunities.
    • Charge refugees. We decided not to have money as a barriers for refugees so we decided to keep activities free for refugees. But we also established that policy when I was still optimistic that we could build a community of volunteers and donors.
  • Most importantly: How can I get my life back? TNKR has been around for more than 3 years, but we haven’t had a scandal and the only criticism I hear about has been targeted at me. In order to keep us from having scandals, I have had to stay directly involved, requiring that tutors and refugees keep us in their digital communications. It is great, we can be closer to the tutors and refugees, but that also means that my phone is always on fire because of constant messaging.
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#BringMyFatherHome (Thailand speech)

Hwang In-Cheol joined TNKR earlier this year, with one goal in mind: To be able to share with the world the story of what happened to his father. In 1969, his father was kidnapped to North Korea when a North Korean agent hijacked a South Korean airplane. When he isn’t working or taking care of his own family, he is studying English with tutors in TNKR.

You can meet Mr. Hwang and him give his speech in English


For more information, check the following links:

2016-11-22 Thanks to Jessica Bok

Jessica Bok has moved back to the USA, but she hasn’t forgotten about TNKR! She was a tutor with us earlier this year, she just made a donation to us, and sent a lovely and encouraging message! It can be difficult starting a non-profit organization in a foreign country, we have struggled with many things as we have tried expand operations. She joined our program as we were going through a transition, so she didn’t get to see our

Donations and lovely messages encourage everyone involved (especially TNKR National Director Lee Eunkoo).


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2016-11-21 Help is on the way!

TNKR held its 51st Language Matching session this past Saturday. We have had more than 450 volunteer tutors participate in the program. In addition to tutoring, some have also helped in other ways with marketing, social media, fundraising, administrative tasks.

We have had many great groups of tutors–but it seems this course will be something special. So many ideas are coming from them, they apparently will get involved at a deeper level. My iPhone has been lit up like a Christmas tree the last week with so many messages coming through.

One of the volunteers visited the TNKR office last night to discuss ways she could get involved and she also made suggestions about ways we could upgrade the way we run Matching sessions. What I really like is that she is trying to understand how we operate, then making helpful suggestions that make sense for our limited capacity.

Thanks, Georgi, welcome to TNKR!



2016-11-22 Korea Times Roundtable discussion

I participated in an extremely lively Korea Times Roundtable discussion today. That’s what happens when you put writers and journalists together–everyone was interrupting each other. There were many thoughtful comments and analysis, despite the many interruptions.

Michael Breen
Donald Kirk
Oh Young-Jin
Casey Lartigue


Here’s my latest column from a Korea Times Roundtable discussion last week.
“Is Donald Trump a racist?”
by Casey Lartigue Jr.
The Korea Times
November 30, 2016.
The other participants and columns:
“Me and My Liberal Tribe” by Michael Breen
“Media mix facts with views” by Donald Kirk
“How to make Trump great president” by Oh Young-jin




Three Korea Times columnists speak on the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president in a roundtable hosted by Chief Editorial Writer Oh Young-jin, third from left, at the Times conference room, last week. From left are Michael Breen, Don Kirk, Oh and Casey Lartigue Jr. Oh’s column, titled “How to make Trump a great president,” was previewed online and will be published in Thursday’s edition of the newspaper. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

2016-11-21 TNKR Zumbathon, hosted by Julie Schuldt at Gettysburg College

This morning I received a notification that TNKR summer volunteer Julie Schuldt had held a Zumbathon at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. It is stunning to look at photos of people jumping around, in the effort to raise money for TNKR!

When Eunkoo Lee and I started TNKR in March 2013, we didn’t have long-term plans. We just thought it would be great to connect North Korean refugees with volunteer tutors who could help them improve their English. More than three years later, we have an organization we can be really proud of, knowing that so many refugees respect what we are doing. We have had more than 450 volunteers join TNKR over the last few years. We are so delighted to have so many people give so much of their time to help refugee learners in our humble project.

Julie was a volunteer with us during the summer, mainly helping with writing. She has remained in contact, letting us know how much she admires TNKR. I tell all volunteers to use their skills and interests to help TNKR. If you’re great at Social Media, do that with us! You want to market something to the world? Take on TNKR as a project! Great at (or want to try) fundraising? Use TNKR as an opportunity to take an organization out of poverty! If you like to exercise? Yes, hold a Zumbathon, as Julie did!

I’m not exactly sure what Zumba is, I have never tried it, but looking at the photos, I would have loved being there.

Julie is back in the USA, she could have chosen many worthy organizations around the world–she chose TNKR! Now many people who would have never heard of us have raised money for TNKR. It is one of those wonderful moments I would have never imagined when Eunkoo Lee and I started TNKR in 2013.



See below for more photos and the German translation by Juliana

Read more

2016-11-21 Her name is Eunhee Park!!!

Eunhee Park, a member of TNKR’s Refugee Leadership Team, visited the office today to chat. What a great conversation! I am always inspired by her passion for life and joy of freedom.

She is still the only refugee in TNKR history to go from Track 1 only (for English study) to Track 2 (public speaking). Here’s the column I wrote a few months ago about her incredible transformation.


But it wasn’t all serious! She loved the figurines from tvN! If you are wondering what to buy for her birthday, you have a great hint based on the photo!


She had me laughing out loud!