I attended–and ended up participating in–Rachel Stine’s speech to the Seoul International Women’s Association this morning. Rachel gave a great speech about helping North Korean refugees. People in the room clearly were inspired by her speech today and her action the last six years for North Korean refugees.

They followed up later on to ask many questions.

Rachel, a former tutor in TNKR, referred to TNKR very often during her speech, so I eventually joined her on stage to explain a few things. But she was the invited speaker, so I refrained from filibustering. 🙂

I met many great people, it seems that TNKR may have some new volunteers and supporters.

Special thanks to former TNKR tutor Renee Cummins for inviting me to the event.


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Last August, Sharon Jang was one of the speakers at the second (TNKR) Teach North Korean Refugees English speech contest. We held the contest in conjunction with the Shin & Kim law firm. Today Sharon returned to give a speech to the lawyers and employees at the law firm.

It was a nice and touching event. Some of the young ladies seemed to be mesmerized by Sharon’s speech.

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Sharon profiled by the Daily Mail (UK)

TNKR English Speech Contest
August 22, 2015

TNKR year-end celebration (at Shin & Kim building)

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When we first started the in-house tutoring program for refugees on the TNKR waiting list, I said that the tutors need to be like boot camp instructors getting refugees ready for the regular matching program.

But now it is more like kindergarten. The tutors and refugees don’t want to say goodbye!  But it was goodbye for a pair that really hit it off. It helps that they are both so sweet and lovely. So I guess it was natural that it would happen!

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I had to leave early for another meeting so I couldn’t stay until the end of the second in-house tutoring session. The young man in this class is always on time, early, in fact! He is at the ABC level. I can see that he really wants to learn. He is still on the waiting list, so unless several refugees cancel, he will be in the in-house tutoring program until at least November.

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One of our in-house tutors didn’t have anyone to tutor today because they are studying hard for their mid-term exams. But Justin still wanted to help out. So he joined me at the Freedom Factory office! His big task: Call the refugees joining the Matching session this Saturday. The English levels of the refugees range from ABC to high intermediate. So there was a lot of comedy in the discussions as Justin asked them several questions to help them get psychologically prepared for the matching session.

Of the 10 refugees scheduled to join us, 7 of them went through the in-house tutoring session. So we feel closer to them, we have a better idea of their language levels, and they have thought about their learning goals.

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For a few days now a contact has been chasing me, trying to have a meeting with me. We sat down to talk tonight, and what she said has the potential to make some really really big changes in TNKR…

Stay tuned, big announcement coming soon if our plan comes together…


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Leaving the restaurant, I heard my name being called. Of course, that means we need to take a photo together!


TNKR had three orientation sessions yesterday, from noon to 6 pm.

  • Session 1 had 16 tutors, mainly with tutors  who will be at the October 24 Matching session with 10 refugees ( 8 newcomers, 2 returnees).
  • Session 2 had 13 tutors who will be at the October 31 Re-Matching session with 7 refugees returning to the program.
  • Session 3 had 8 refugees who will be joining on Oct 24 (6 of them went through our new in-house tutoring program we launched last month).

Some notable things:

  • Some of the most common questions we are asked about TNKR: “How do find refugees?” My response: “We don’t. They find us.”  A related question: “How do refugees find you?” Based on yesterday: “Referrals.” All eight refugees at yesterday’s orientation were referred to the program by current or previous students. When we first started TNKR in March 2013, we did search, but not now. We have a waiting list of 50 refugees.
  • One of the refugees said that she wants to work for TNKR. She was praising us so much, saying that 1) she can’t believe we don’t charge refugees anything 2) we should market more so every refugee can join, to which I said “no, we do this as volunteers.” 3) she hopes she can work with TNKR so we can help even more people.
  • Assuming they all make it to the upcoming matching sessions, 29 new tutors will be joining the program. They are from all over the world (USA, South Korea, England, Canada, Canada/Scotland, Germany/Netherlands, Australia). In addition, they are coming in from all around Korea (Wonju, Gongju, Gunpo, Sangju, Bundang, Gimcheon, Gangseo, Suji, Suwon).
  • Of course, we worry about the political ones or researchers with an agenda, but it seems that most of them are teachers who just want to contribute their time.
  • We had many lovely comments from tutors. Several said they are fans of the program, some even expressed great admiration for the co-founders. One said that she loves how everything is in “black and white.” Communication is a key part of the program. for several months now we have been using Kakao to communicate, it has made the program much better. It is harder for tutors or refugees to hide from us, although some insist on having side conversations without us. By having a refugee in a Kakao group with all of his/her tutors and the co-directors means we all know what is going on, and it is a team effort.
  • Several of the tutors also said they are eager to teach adults who are motivated to learn.  But a few did express concerns about whether or not they would be chosen. In two years, we have had only 2 (out of 280) tutors who did not get picked.  So we encourage the tutors to focus on what they can do rather than mentioning what they can’t do.
  • At the end, the refugees were asking questions about me. Some had heard about me because of some of my other activities with refugees, but they wanted to know more about me. So I popped in my ppt showing my various activities over the years. It is then that they understand that I am devoted to freedom, opportunity and individual autonomy. I should not be surprised that they want to know about me, but it surprises me every time.
  • Winding down, Eunkoo and I realized how crazy it was that we had six hours of orientations on a Saturday. So I suggested to her that we should take the day off. Of course, even Sunday morning, we are getting many messages and requests, and I’m writing this…
  • When we first started TNKR, we had orientation and matching sessions the same day. And we tried to squeeze them both into two hours. After a while, we decided to divide them in half. We will never go back to doing it the way we had before. We meet the tutors in advance, we give them time to ask questions, we get to hear their questions and comments..

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Yesterday I was one of the speakers at a special event at George Mason University’s campus in Seongdo (Korea). Charles Cousino, an 84-year-old Korean war veteran, discussed his connection to Korea. I discussed Teach North Korean Refugees. And North Korean refugee Sehyek Oh talked about what freedom means to him.

Special thanks to Roland Wilson and Michael Dunne for making it happen!

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Very often when I visit TNKR tutoring sessions, I will tell the tutor and learn to ignore me. Thursday morning, it actually happened! They ignored me!
The class was from 9:30 am-12:30 pm. This particular duo has been meeting once a week, so this was their 8th session. Refugees and tutors are expected to meet twice a month, but as with this duo, many exceed that. I have heard about a few meeting two or three times a week.
What I liked about Amy’s class is that in addition to instant correction, she  led the learner to the answers without immediately telling her. She lets her work her way to the answer or the understanding of a particular text or word. Even though she is studying Korean these days, she did not use any in teaching (although, like a lot of expats and Korean language learners, she often says “Yes” in Korean).
I have a special feeling about particular refugee. Even though her English was not strong, she contacted me on Facebook months ago, asking if she could join TNKR. So it was so great to see her long vocabulary list she is studying, to watch her so eager to learn during class, and to see her celebrating herself whenever she understood something that had been a mystery just moments before!
It was a fun class, it was clear that they get along and enjoy the time they are studying and learning together. So much so that they ignored me pretty much for all 3 hours! I’m not complaining, because it gave me a chance to catch up on messages and to revise my PPT for a speech the following day…

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Wednesday night, I dropped in on a TNKR class taught by one of our newest tutors. The class was from 6:40-8:40 pm, and it was definitely two hours of English! Sometimes when people read about TNKR, they may forget that the many tutors and coaches are VOLUNTEERS. They could be doing other things, such as making money engaging in private tutoring, meeting with friends, playing videos, or chit-chatting on social media. Instead, they are tutoring North Korean refugees or helping them in other ways.

Whereas many of the refugees welcome me to the classes, the young lady in the class the other day admitted she was nervous about me being there. It may be because there were two native speakers that she had to deal with at the same time. I prefer to think it is because I am such an impressive man that I took her breath her away. 🙂

But eventually she relaxed and even seemed to enjoy that I was also there. I do my best to attend as many classes as possible, although I am quite active and even busy some days.

A great thing about the classes is that the refugees start to realize, through practice, which things make sense and which things don’t. She wanted to read a book, but after reading it along with us, she began to realize it wasn’t interesting.

Stuart was correcting her pronunciation, helping her understand what she had read, then reviewing it together.

We have a constant issue in classes with tutors wanting to use Korean (even just simple phrases), but Stuart never did. Instead, he looked up photos on the Internet, drew pictures, or continued describing the word or context of the text until she understood.

The young lady said she was okay with me posting her photos, uncensored, but she is still  new in the program so I will wait until later to do so.

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Two TNKR Ambassadors spoke at a university in Seoul yesterday. It was a special occasion, for many reasons:

  • The event was organized by TNKR volunteer James Maxwell Milne. He organized it, raised money for it with a gofundme page, and also made a personal donation. In the future I will suggest this model to volunteers who want to organize speaking events for TNKR members.
  • Speakers Cherie Yang and Sharon Jang were wonderful! They both entered TNKR this year without public speaking experience. Cherie joined the program in January then gave her first speeches in February–in a speaking tour across the USA! Sharon joined in March–then her first speech was at the British embassy that was recorded by Al Jazeera. They are both getting better at presenting their stories.
  • The audience was engaged. Korean college students are known for sitting on their hands during Q&A. But yesterday they were asking many questions, in both English and Korean. A couple of the ladies in the audience were crying as they listened to Cherie and Sharon.
  • I even got a strong response from the audience. Korean college students are also known for only volunteering when they have no choice. But yesterday several students told me that they would like to join TNKR. I challenged them to gather together as a group so we could have a planning session to make it happen. I often make the point to NK NGO leaders and activists that instead of blaming Koreans for not getting involved, we may need to change our strategy to attract people.
  • TNKR tutor and coach Peter Daley joined us, yet again. He is now becoming a regular at our events!
  • I was so busy yesterday that I wasn’t checking my messages. 430 Kakao, 80 Facebook plus many emails. So today I need to follow up on many things…
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Yesterday was another busy day! In-house tutoring in the morning, interview with “Ask Ajumma,” speech, dinner, then I joined a class taught by Aishling.

I love going to these study sessions. One great thing about Aishling is that she is a focused and creative tutor. She didn’t  just go by the book in helping Cherie with her next assignment, she  also presented original ideas.

They met at 9 pm last night. It is another reminder of how great TNKR is! We have classes going on all around the city every day, in this case I joined classes from 10 am to 1 pm, then from 9 to 10 pm. So many volunteers give up so much of their time to North Korean refugees.

Aishling and Cherie clearly have hit it off, laughing and joking together, but it is within the focus of teaching and learning.

A great thing about Cherie is that she is coachable and eager to learn. She listens to what she is taught, she doesn’t pretend to understand when she doesn’t, she asks questions, and she keeps the class fun because of her delightful personality.

I’m not sure how happy they were about me joining, because they knew if meant one thing: Photos!

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According to their Facebook page: “Ask Ajumma is a virtual concierge service that can help you get the things you want in Korea. We can help save time, money and get the quality you want.

I bumped into them this morning, they did a quick interview.

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