When Kim Chol-soo and his wife, Kim Young-ok (not their real names), first arrived in South Korea they had doubts about their new life. It was not what they had expected. Worries over finances arose soon after their arrival, and the government-provided apartment failed to offer them the same comforts as their home back in North Korea. Their first few months living in the South were difficult — a far cry from the life they had just left behind.
|Staff members from Teach North Korean Refugees take part in a matching session on March 21, in Seocho District, southern Seoul. The project partners North Korean defectors with volunteer English tutors. By Park Sang-moon|
A North Korean defector who asked to go only by his English name, Ken, recalled graduating from college and later volunteering to join the military.
Unlike most of his fellow countrymen, whose service is mandatory, he explained he was exempt, for a reason he wished not to specify.
“Sometimes I think I’m crazy. For 10 years!” he said in broken English, explaining that he couldn’t understand how he convinced himself to sign up in the first place.
Having spent a decade – his entire 20s – in the North Korean army, he was quick to add that he had been resolute when making the choice.
“North Korean broadcasting had been brainwashing me from the time I was 1 years old until I was an adult. I had to be loyal to the Kim family,” Ken added, referring to the reclusive state’s ruling dynasty.
His affiliation with the military was his way of showing he was part of this unconditional personality cult, he said.
As the 35-year-old told his story, Canadian national Amelie Lacroix, who teaches English to kindergarten and elementary school students here, listened with widening eyes and occasional expressions of shock.
“For 10 years? Were you aware you’d be serving that long? How was it?” she asked, leaning toward Ken from across a coffee table at a three-story cafe in Jongno District, central Seoul, as if to coax him into speaking up.
In a blunt tone, Ken answered: “I was extremely hungry. The government provides 700 grams of rice every day, but other organizations and other higher-rank officials take it and take it. Maybe if I’m lucky, I get 400 or 550 grams per day. But only rice. No side dishes.”
The pair, who spoke over a cup of hot americano and imported chocolate-banana cookies, both belong to the Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) project, which matches defectors with volunteer English tutors.
Co-founded in March 2013 by Lee Eun-koo and Casey Lartigue, the group has so far directly matched more than 170 defectors and 240 teachers, the latter mostly foreigners teaching English at local schools or private academies.
The program consists of two tracks: In Track 1, titled “Finding My Own Way,” refugees are matched with tutors who help them to generally improve their English; while Track 2, also “Telling My Own Story,” supports refugees seeking to become public speakers and links them with coaches who help them with self-expression.
Ken and Lacroix’s lesson last week was their first Track 2 session after having been introduced to each other a week earlier through TNKR.
“In university, I studied international relations and modern languages, so it’s really interesting to be close to North Korean issues [through this program] and to see how such people lived under such a [Communist] regime,” said Lacroix, 23.
TNKR typically holds monthly matching sessions for each track, in which a group of defectors and tutors gather to introduce themselves and select their partners.
Seven refugees and 10 tutors are chosen for a session in the order they submit applications and pass screening procedures. A waiting list can hold up prospective participants for a couple months.
Before the matching session, the TNKR staff hosts an advance orientation session with selected tutors to hand out basic instructions. Their resumes are then distributed to the refugees so the students can preview their candidates.
In order to be matched with a defector, participation in both the orientation and matching session is compulsory.
At a matching session, tutors introduce themselves one by one, highlighting a preferred time, location and their teaching skills, followed by the refugees, who do the same. The students then take turns selecting as many teachers as they want and exchange contact information to set up their first lesson.
“Koreans can join as teachers, too,” said Lartigue, who works as the director of international cooperation at Freedom Factory, a local think tank. “Some refugees can’t speak in English and want bilingual teachers.”
The matched pairs are required to meet a minimum of twice a month, 90 minutes each time, for three months at agreed upon locations like coffee shops. To make sure no one slacks, the TNKR staff asks everyone to submit short reports after each lesson.
“When we first started, we weren’t monitoring, and the result was that they never contacted us,” said Lartigue. “There were some problems, such as classes being canceled.”
One way to get around that, he added, was to allow the defectors to choose more than one tutor so that they could bounce between different tutors and choose whoever fit best with their schedule.
In terms of qualifications, the staff “typically lets everyone through,” and then allows the students to do their own screening later into their lessons.
The staff warns foreigners beforehand, however, to never get too involved in the defectors’ stories unless the refugees initially speak up.
Peter Daley, an assistant professor in the General English Program at Sookmyung Women’s University, recalled his first Track 2 meeting with one student last week.
“She was reading her script, and then suddenly stopped to say, ‘Ah, it’s really hard for me to keep thinking about this.’
“I felt guilty because I kind of felt a bit detached. For me, it was like reading a book, to hear her say she hasn’t seen her brothers for a long time, and that she hopes they’re safe and that they can meet each other again.”
The 42-year-old, who said he joined TNKR out of sheer interest about totalitarian regimes and to help North Korean defectors adjust to their new lives, added that he wished to fulfill his humanitarian goals via the program.
“This is just one way of helping out. You can’t always change the world but you can have an impact on an individual,” he said.
One 23-year-old college student, who defected to South Korea in 2011 and declined to give his real name, said TNKR was a shot at a “normal life.”
“In order to get adjusted to the South, refugees must fill their minds with so many things they were restricted from in the North,” he said.
“English is an essential tool to live here, and joining TNKR, you can meet so many people from so many different backgrounds,” he continued in Korean, adding that the cosmopolitan vibe enabled defectors to broaden their prospective toward a world from which they were once completely shut out.
Lacroix, the Canadian, admitted that her parents expressed a little displeasure when she first told them she wanted to join the group.
“They said ‘Oh my God, be careful.’ Because it’s a normal Western reaction to think that North Korea has such an oppressive regime, and that it can affect people.”
Anxiously eyeing Ken – whom upon hearing her comments burst into laughter and joked, “What? I’m innocent!” – she added that her first lesson went much smoother than she had imagined.
“I think people are the same, and he has good intentions. I don’t worry,” she said.
For more information about TNKR, visit teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]
TNKR is expanding and many changes are on the way!
Please bear with us as we complete an overhaul of our website.
TNKR 홈페이지는 현재 새로운 모습을 위해 단장중입니다.
곧 다시 찾아뵙겠습니다. ^^
그러나, TNKR 영어 매칭신청은 “신청하기-학생용”에서 그대로 신청하시면 됩니다.
The Teach North Korean Refugees project met and talked with high school students visiting from the USA. It was our second event in the last week, and both times were elegant and poignant.
Three of the refugees are in Track 2 (“Telling My Own Story”) and two are in Track 1 (“Finding My Own Way”). Three of them were first timers so they had jitters but told us that they are glad they did it.
Another speaker began her speaking career five weeks ago–she has now given 7 speeches. I can REALLY see her improvement (of course, she thought she was terrible). Another speaker is an expert, she was clearly at ease.
We were encouraged and inspired by all of the speakers. It is easy to forget how dangerous it can be for refugees to speak out. Many still prefer to remain anonymous or even avoid speaking opportunities.
Thanks to the TNKR team (co-Director Lee Eunkoo, Operations Manager Suzanne Atwill Stewart and Special Ambassador Cherie Yang) for coming out on a Tuesday afternoon to cheer on our speakers and to help make the event even more special.
One of the teachers was particularly touched by what he heard. He had many questions during Q&A, then followed up with me later with a GREAT idea. So we are going to be in touch, to make it happen.
Last November, one of our volunteer tutors made a big mistake: She suggested a way she could help the Teach North Korean Refugees project have smoother English Matching sessions.
It wasn’t long before Suzanne Atwill Stewart had become such an important part of TNKR that we couldn’t remember what it was like before she joined us.
Ah, but what was going to be her title? We initially disagreed–she was happy to be our secretary, I wanted to name her “Special Assistant.”
Well, a few days ago, she got upgraded: Operations Manager. That accurately describes what she does with TNKR. I am a generous guy, so I doubled her pay. Let’s see, what is 0 x 2? When that didn’t seem to be enough, I instead tripled her pay. Yes, 0 x 3.
She is a volunteer Operations Manager, but she takes it so seriously. She stopped by my office today with her long to-do-list of items, and did her best to give me some assignments (HA!). She actually tracks what I say, reminds me of it, then follows up like a gentle stalker.
And… she has made it clear to me that I must set aside time each week to meet with her, to discuss my many ideas, so that she and Eunkoo (co-director) can turn those ideas into reality–in an organized way…
The other TNKR internal change: Cherie Yang joined TNKR recently, but she has already had a great impact. First was our mini-speaking tour in the USA as her introduction to public speaking. She took on the challenge with very little prep. In just five weeks, she has given her first seven speeches in English.
She is one of the members of TNKR, I think she has five or six coaches and tutors that she meets and talks with weekly. She is really focused on studying, learning, enjoys being corrected and learning new things.
But the other thing that she has done: She recruits other North Korean refugees to our project and praises our project without us having to ask her.
March 14, 2015 at the Freedom Factory office near the National Assembly
1) Track 1 orientation from 12 noon-1:30 pm, in preparation for 3/21 Matching sessions. Track 1 is the English language section of TNKR in which students and tutors meet for a minimum of three months, twice month. Joining this session will qualify you to be a tutor in the next TNKR Track 1 sessions. We have found that having separate orientation sessions gives us time to explain the project and to answer questions without the time pressure of getting to the Matching session.
Then on March 21, 2015 at the Mulmangcho Human Rights Institute near Bangbae station
2) Track 1 Matching session with 7 NK learners. This session is intended for those tutors who attended the 3/14 orientation. You will have the opportunity to tutor as many NK refugees as you can handle. We have a waiting list of refugees, so we hope to have as many tutors as possible so refugees can have the opportunity to study with as many tutors as possible.
3) Track 1 Matching session with an NGO, 4 NK learners with 4 SK study partners. This session is for those tutors who attended the 3/14 orientation. We are having a special session for an NGO that has matched four refugees with four South Koreans to study in pairs.
4) Track 2 Matching session from 2-4 pm with 4 NK Ambassadors. Track 2 is the part of the project that helps prepare refugees improve their public speaking skills. Not all refugees seek to become public speakers, and that’s fine with us, this is only an option for those who seek to improve their public speaking (for work, personal enrichment, to become public advocates, or for whatever reason they have).
It all makes perfect sense to me, but if it doesn’t to you, please ask questions in advance so I can add more detail to this.
Apply online at http://teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/to-apply/teacher-application/. Our Special Assistant is now traveling so please understand time delays.
“Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.”
The volunteers of the Mulmangcho School and Teach North Korean Refugee project did it. They raised 2 million won in two nights. I hope they can take a break to recover and rejoice, but I heard that some will be trying to make it to the Mulmangcho School this morning.
I’m the International Adviser to the Mulmangcho School, so I don’t have any real power except to send out threatening messages. But as the co-director of TNKR, I can direct our share of the loot to an internship program we are setting up.
Thanks from co-organizer Injee Lee: “Thanks to the bands (Sons of Tiger, Lions on the Beach, Decader, The Killer Drones, Boss Hagwon, Les Sales, Pentasonic, Colin Phils), the volunteers (Aaron Grommesh, Nina Stearns,Kristen Lefebvre, Rida Hamdani, Ben Haynes, Ren Haynes, Angie Ahn), Rachel Stine who emceed and co-organized, special guests Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee who spoke about the plight of the refugees and what we can do to help, and especially Dwayne Robertson and Kirk Kwon at Thunderhorse Tavern.”
The team of volunteers started arriving a 7 pm on Friday to get set up and I heard that some remained until 3 am both nights.
Holding this kind of fundraiser is something we have been talking about for quite a while, but Injee and Rachel made it happen. They led the effort, but of course it took the team helping them to get it done.
And it isn’t too late to donate.
1) DONATE TO THE MULMANGCHO SCHOOL
(domestic) Standard Chartered Bank
364 20 030012
Recipient name: Mulmangcho
Standard Chartered Bank
364 20 030012
Swift code; SCBKRSE.
Branch code; 233644
2) DOUBLE YOUR DONATION TO TNKR
Double your donation to Teach North Korean Refugees through the Atlas Network. https://www.atlasnetwork.org/donate. Click ” I would like to designate my gift to a specific Atlas Network program,” then type in “Freedom Factory” or “TNKR” or “Teach North Korean Refugees.”
3) DONATE TO TNKR (domestically/internationally/paypal)http://teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/support-tnkr/
-Bank account: (Woori Bank) 1006-201-405817
-Name on account: TNKR
-International bank account: (Woori Bank Seocho Umyeon Branch) 1006-201-405817
-Name on account: Eunkoo Lee(TNKR)
-Swift code: HVBKKRSEXXX
-Bank address: Taebongro 70, Seochogu, Seoul, South Korea
-Bank phone number: 02-3463-9596
* * *
paypal (just mark that you want it to go to TNKR)
Volunteering for Mulmangcho (group)
Teach North Korean Refugees (group)
Defectors call for better awareness on their plight
By John Redmond
Young North Korean defectors taking part in an English contest have expressed their hope for the public’s greater understanding of the plight of refugees.During the Teach North Korea Refugees (TNKR) English speech contest in Seoul, Saturday, the contestants spoke candidly of their personal experiences of life in North Korea, their escapes via China and the personal struggles facing refugees in the South.
Limited to a 10 minute presentation, seven contestants touched on issues including censorship, brainwashing and fear of trust, even among family members.
Including Powerpoint presentations, the common thread among all speeches was the lack of understanding of what refugees experience after they escape North Korea and the resources and options offered to them.
While all contestants have either graduated from universities or are in the process of completing degrees, all but two refused to allow any photograph or recording of their presentations, despite displaying strong self-confidence.
The winner of the contest, Andrew Lee, spoke very strongly about how he was not trusted by members of the local community when he first went to school in Busan. He recounted a conversation with a high school friend some years ago about his first days in a school dormitory.
“When I was 19 years old I attended a high school in Busan. I eventually made friends, and one guy, who’s now a very close friend, told me he didn’t sleep on the first night I arrived,” said Lee.
“When I asked him why? He responded, ‘I thought you might stab me during the night and flee back to North Korea,'” he said.
Lee stated that many here in the South need to understand the pressures they face. He also said that every effort helps.
“It’s not only the big things but even small things help.”
Lee was presented 1 million won in prize money.
This weekend there is also a fundraiser at Thunderhorse Tavern in Haebangchon, Seoul, for the TNKR Mulmangcho School, a small alternative school for adolescent North Korean refugees founded in mid-2012 by Professor Park Sun-young.
The charity event will feature eight bands over two nights from March 6. The line up comprises Sons of Tiger, Lions on the Beach, Decoder and the Killer Drones on Friday; followed by Boss Hogwon, Les Sales, Pentasonic and Colin Phils on March 7.
Admission is 10, 000 won for one night or 15,000 won for both nights.
For more information visithttps://www.facebook.com/events/1522073321387434
English speech contest set for NK refugees
By John Redmond
A volunteer group, Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), will host an English speech contest for North Korean refugees at Euljiro-dong Community Center in Seoul, Saturday.
At the event, 10 North Korean refugees who are students and alumni of the (TNKR) project will give speeches in English, answering the question “How can you help North Koreans?”
The participants are members of TNKR’s Track 1 “Finding My Own Way” and Track 2 “Telling My Own Story,” parts of the project co-founded in early 2013 by South Korean Lee Eun-koo and American Casey Lartigue, Jr.
Started in March 2013, TNKR has regular monthly sessions. It has so far held 24 sessions ― 22 in English and one in Spanish. The program boasts 156 refugees with 216 volunteers.
“Refugees can study English with as many tutors as they can handle. Park Yeon-mi was in the project last year, she had 18 tutors in eight months,” said Lartigue, Jr. in an email interview.
The prizes will comprise a grand prize of 1 million won, a second place prize with 500,000 won ($450), a third place prize of 100,000 won and an honorable mention prize with 50,000 won.
Co- director, Lartigue Jr., a fellow of Atlas Network since 2013, lives in South Korea where he is the director for international relations for Freedom Factory Co. In addition, he is the international adviser to the Mulmangcho School (for adolescent North Korean refugees) in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province.
The contest will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 28 and 10,000-won donations are suggested.
To get to the Euljiro-dong Community Center, leave Euljiro 3-ga Subway Station at exit 3. Turn right at the first alley (about five seconds after you exit the subway and turn left at the first small street and the center will be on your left across the street, you will see Staz Hotel.
To attend the contest or join TNKR as a volunteer English tutor or speech coach, email TNKR.email@example.com. Pay for tickets at Woori Bank account number 1006-201-405817 (account name TNKR).
For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/317168611817513/.
Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) is a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing free English learning opportunities to North Korean refugees. For more information, take a look at our About page.
TNKR’s registration number with the Seoul City Government: 143-82-65155
US Tax ID: 82-2591748
Email: Please use this form
Mon-Fri: 11AM-8PM (KST)
There are no upcoming events at this time.