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2018-01-10 VOA report about TNKR, in English and Korean


A Seoul-based non-profit providing free English learning opportunities for North Korean refugees is gaining a lot of attention. Founded in 2013, the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR) has provided its services to over 320 North Korean refugee students. Kim Hyun-jin reports from Seoul.

The Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR), located in a small corner of Seoul’s Mapo area. In a humble room of 15 pyeong, a North Korean woman in her 40s is studying English one-on-one with an American volunteer tutor.

She is still at the level of learning numbers in English, but she carefully listens to her tutor’s explanations and does her best to follow.

Founded in March 2013, TNKR, as its name suggests, has taught English to over 320 North Korean refugees.

Hear from Casey Lartigue, the co-founder of the organization:

[Reporter] “Can you explain yourself in Korean?”

[Casey Lartigue] “No, I cannot….”

A graduate of Harvard University, Lartigue says his Korean skills are very rudimentary and continues introducing himself in English.

[Casey Lartigue] “I’m an American living in South Korea, I’m a co-director at TNKR. I do a couple of other things….”

Lartigue is a columnist for The Korea Times and also a lecturer at a university in Seoul. But he says he feels the happiest when he is helping North Korean refugees improve their English skills and get closer to achieving their dreams.

Lee Eunkoo, who co-founded TNKR with Lartigue, describes the organization’s English program:

[Lee Eunkoo] “TNKR has two English programs. One program involves general English, focusing on North Korean refugee students who want to freely speak with foreigners. Track 2 involves public speaking, helping those N. Korean refugee students who wish to tell their own stories in English.”

TNKR originally began with just a few volunteer tutors and students. But as the word about the program began to spread among N. Korean refugees, the number of students swelled and the refugees must now wait for their turns on the waiting list.

Lartigue says that N. Korean refugees from all over S. Korea are reaching out to TNKR to learn English.

[Casey Lartigue] “She lives in Daegu, she didn’t go back to Daegu until she had a chance… We had a student from Busan…”

According to Lartigue, nearly 100 students are currently on the waiting list. The N. Korean refugees wanting to join TNKR must submit an online application and take part in an interview.

[Casey Lartigue] Why do you want to join TNKR?”

[Kim Ga-young, N. Korean refugee & TV personality] “Because I want to learn English…”

Kim Ga-young, who escaped from N. Korea in 2013 and appears on S. Korea’s ‘Moranbong Club’ TV talk show, is one of those applicants on the waiting list.

[Kim Ga-young] “I frequently travel to foreign countries for work, but I cannot communicate at all. First of all, my English level very basic level, and I wasn’t sure if I could join TNKR. So I wanted to know if beginners could also join…”

A few TNKR graduates are now using their fluent English skills to raise awareness about North Korea’s human rights situation on the international stage. Hear from Park Yeon-mi, a North Korean refugee woman, speaking at the globally renowned TED conference.

[Park Yeon-mi speaking at TED.]

Lee Sungju, a former N. Korean street child who escaped at the age of 15 and received a Master’s degree as a Chevening scholar in the U.K., also has a relationship with TNKR.

Asked who is his most memorable student, Lartigue cheerfully replies as follows:

[Casey Lartigue] “Cherie, she came to South Korea Jan 2015, and she wanted to meet me, after I explained our program, she stayed in Korea….”

Cherie Yang, who went directly to the United States from Thailand and has become a naturalized U.S. citizen, initially studied at a two-year community college. But due to her low English level, Cherie was unable to complete her studies and began to work at restaurant and a trading company. However, she has since regained her confidence and significantly improved her English level after studying at TNKR. Cherie recently gave a TEDx talk in the U.K.

Behind such achievements were the sweat and effort of volunteer tutors. To date, over 700 volunteer tutors have taught English at TNKR.

Youngmin Kwon, who is on a medical leave from the Georgetown University Law Center, is one of them.

[Youngmin Kwon] “Doing such a basic thing as helping refugee by using my language skill which is privilege…”

Alex Hickey, an American volunteer starting his first class today, says he hopes to be of assistance, however small, to the N. Korean refugees.

[Alex Hickey] “NK defectors are people who go all the way through China to somewhere like Laos or Thailand to try to get freedom and those people deserve it more than most of people in the world….that’s why I want to help out…”

In addition to teaching English for N. Korean refugees, TNKR is also actively involved in raising awareness within the international community on North Korea’s human rights situation.

[5th TNKR Global Leadership Forum]

“Welcome you all. Today TNKR’s 5th Global Leadership forum…..”

On December 6, 2017, TNKR held its 5th Global Leadership Forum. Among the featured speakers included Lee Tae-won, a North Korean refugee whose wife and son were forcibly repatriated from China in November. Speaking alongside him were Ji Hyeon-a, a North Korean refugee author, and Hwang In-cheol, a South Korean whose father was abducted by N. Korea in 1969. The forum helped bring attention to their respective plights and made an appeal to the international community for support.

Lartigue says that TNKR, which is a registered non-profit organization in S. Korea, is currently undergoing a process for getting a 501c(3) status in Virginia.

[Casey Lartigue] “We are now setting up to get the 501c(3) status in the US also…”

According to Lartigue, Virginia is one of those states that allows overseas NGOs to receive 501c(3) status. Upon registration, TNKR will be able to receive donations from U.S.-based donors.

Expressing his sense of fulfilment, Lartigue says the following about his plan for the new year:

[Casey Lartigue] “To remain fun and to be able to help more North Korean refugees.”

Kim Hyun-jin, VOA News.

Translated from Korean by Youngmin Kwon




[특파원 리포트] ‘탈북민에 무료 영어교육’ 단체, 올해 미 NGO 등록

지난 2013년 설립된 북한이탈주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR)의 공동설립자 케이시 라티그 대표가 VOA 서울 특파원과 인터뷰하고 있다.

지난 2013년 설립된 북한이탈주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR)의 공동설립자 케이시 라티그 대표가 VOA 서울 특파원과 인터뷰하고 있다.

탈북민들에게 무료로 영어를 가르치는 서울의 한 단체가 관심을 끌고 있습니다. 지난 2013년 설립된 북한이탈주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR)를 거쳐간 탈북민이 현재 320명을 넘었습니다. 서울의 김현진 특파원이 취재했습니다.

[녹취: 미국인 선생님과 탈북민 영어 강습]

서울 마포의 작은 건물에 자리잡은 북한이탈주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR). 15평 남짓한 좁은 방에서 40대 탈북 여성이 미국인 선생님으로부터 1:1 영어교육을 받고 있습니다.

아직 숫자를 영어로 배우는 수준이지만, 원어민 선생님의 설명을 잘 듣고 따라합니다.

지난 2013년 3월 설립된 이 단체의 영어 약자인 TNKR은 ‘Teach North Korean Refugees.’ 북한 난민을 가르친다는 뜻으로, 지금까지 320여명이 이 단체에서 영어를 배웠습니다.

이 단체 공동설립자인 미국인 케이시 라티그 대표입니다.

[녹취: 케이시 대표] “Can you explain yourself in Korean? 아니요, 잘못해요….”

미국의 명문 하버드대학 출신인 라티그 대표는 한국말로 자기소개를 부탁하는 기자에게, 서툴다며 영어로 소개를 이어갑니다.

[녹취: 케이시 대표] “I’m an American living in South Korea, I’m a co-director at TNKR. I do a couple of other things….”

라티그 대표는 `코리아 타임스’ 신문에 글을 기고하고, 서울의 대학에서 강의도 하지만 탈북민들이 영어 의사소통 능력을 키워 꿈을 이룰 수 있도록 도울 때가 가장 행복하다고 말했습니다.

라티그 대표와 함께 TNKR의 공동설립자인 이은구 대표는 이 단체의 영어 프로그램을 이렇게 설명합니다.

[녹취: 이은구 대표] “TNKR의 영어교육 프로그램은 크게 두 가지가 있는데요, 영어를 하나도 모르는 탈북민들을 위해 알파벳부터 기초영어, 문법 어휘, 발음을 교육하는 수업과 글쓰기, 대중연설, 프리젠테이션 코칭을 원하는 학생을 위한 프로그램이 있습니다.”

TNKR은 자원봉사자 선생님과 학생 한두 명으로 시작했지만 입소문을 통해 탈북민들에게 널리 알려지면서 지금은 이 곳에서 영어를 배우려면 순서를 기다려야 합니다.

라티그 대표는 영어를 배우기 위해 한국 전역에서 탈북자들이 모여들고 있다고 말합니다.

[녹취: 라티그 대표] “She lives in Daegu, she didn’t go back to Daegu until she had a chance… We had a student from Busan…”

대구, 부산에 사는 학생들도 영어를 배우기 위해 서울에 올라와 몇 달을 지내다가 돌아간다는 설명입니다.

라티그 대표에 따르면 현재 대기자 수만 100여 명. 교육을 받고 싶은 탈북자는 온라인을 통해 신청서를 작성하고 인터뷰를 해야 합니다.

[녹취: 탈북 방송인 김가영 씨 인터뷰 NAT SOUND] “케이시: Why do you want to join TNKR? 가영씨: 영어를 배우고 싶어서…”

2013년 탈북해 ‘모란봉 클럽’이란 텔레비전 프로에 출연하고 있는 방송인 김가영 씨도 대기자 가운데 한 명입니다.

[녹취: 탈북 방송인 김가영 씨 인터뷰 NAT SOUND] “제가 외국에 많이 나가서 활동을 하게 되는데요, 전혀 대화가 안되니까, 일단은 먼저 초보라서 배우고 싶은데 가능한지 몰라서. 초보도 배울 수 있는지 궁금해요…”

TNKR에서 영어를 배운 탈북자 가운데 일부는 유창한 영어로 국제무대에서 북한의 인권 실상을 알리고 있습니다. 세계적으로 알려진 강연 사이트 TED 에서 연설하는 탈북 여성 박연미 씨입니다.

[녹취: 박연미 씨 TED 강연]

꽃제비 출신으로 15살 때 탈북해 영국 외교부 장학금으로 공부해 석사 학위를 받은 이성주 씨도 이 단체에서 영어를 배웠습니다.

라티그 대표는 기억에 남는 학생이 누군지 묻는 질문에 신이 나서 말을 이어갑니다.

[녹취: 라티그 대표] “Sheri, she came to South Korea Jan 2015, and she wanted to meet me, after I explained our program, she stayed in Korea….”

태국을 통해 미국에 입국해 시민권을 받은 탈북민 쉐리 씨는 미국에서 2년제 대학에 진학했지만, 영어가 되지 않아 대학을 마치지 못하고 식당 일을 전전해야 했습니다. 하지만 TNKR의 도움으로 영어에 자신감을 얻은 뒤 테드에서 강연을 할 정도로 실력이 향상됐다는 설명입니다.

미국 조지타운대학 법대생으로 북한이탈주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR)에서 자원봉사자로 영어를 가르치는 권영민 씨.

미국 조지타운대학 법대생으로 북한이탈주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR)에서 자원봉사자로 영어를 가르치는 권영민 씨.

이 같은 성과 뒤에는 자원봉사자 선생님들의 땀과 노력이 있었습니다. 지금까지 이 단체에서 영어를 가르친 자원봉사 교사는 무려 700여명에 달합니다.

미국 조지타운대학 법대생으로 현재 휴학 중인 권영민 씨도 그 중 한 명입니다.

[녹취: 자원봉사 영어교사 권영민] “Doing such a basic thing as helping refugee by using my language skill which is privilege…”

자신의 언어 능력을 활용해 난민을 도울 수 있다는 게 너무 특권이고 감사하다는 겁니다.

이날 첫 수업을 한다는 미국인 알레스 히키 씨는 탈북민들에게 작은 도움이나마 되고 싶다고 말했습니다.

[녹취: 알렉스 힉키] “NK defectors are people who go all the way through China to somewhere like Laos or Thailand to try to get freedom and those people deserve it more than most of people in the world….that’s why I want to help out…”

중국을 통해 라오스나 태국을 거쳐 자유를 찾아 한국에 온 탈북민들은 세계 누구보다 도움이 필요한 사람들이며, 이들을 돕고 싶다는 겁니다.

TNKR은 탈북자들을 위한 영어교육뿐 아니라 국제사회에 북한인권 문제를 알리는데도 적극 나서고 있습니다.

[녹취: TNKR Global leadership forum 5th ]

“Welcome you all. Today TNKR’s 5th Global Leadership forum…..”

지난 6일 탈북자들이 TNKR이 주최한 북한 인권문제 포럼에서 증언하고 있다. 왼쪽부터, 지난 11월 아내와 아들이 북송된 이태원 씨, 탈북 작가 지현아 씨, KAL기 납치피해자 송환을 위한 대책협의회 황인철 대표.

지난 6일 탈북자들이 TNKR이 주최한 북한 인권문제 포럼에서 증언하고 있다. 왼쪽부터, 지난 11월 아내와 아들이 북송된 이태원 씨, 탈북 작가 지현아 씨, KAL기 납치피해자 송환을 위한 대책협의회 황인철 대표.

지난 6일에는 아내와 아들이 지난 11월 중국에서 북한으로 송환된 이태원 씨와 탈북 작가 지현아 씨, KAL기 납치피해자 송환을 위한 대책협의회 황인철 대표의 사연을 알리고 국제사회의 도움을 호소하는 포럼을 열기도 했습니다.

라티그 씨에 따르면 한국 내 비영리단체로 등록돼 있는 TNKR은 현재 미국 버지니아에 NGO로 등록하는 절차를 진행하고 있습니다.

[녹취: 라티그 대표] “We are now setting up to get the 501c(3) status in the US also…”

버지니아 주는 미국인 이 해외에 설립한 NGO도 인정해주고 있다며, 등록이 완료되면 미국인들로부터 기부를 받을 수 있게 된다는 설명입니다.

라티그 씨는 탈북민들을 도울 수 있다는 게 너무 기쁘다며, 올해도 탈북민들을 도우며 의미있고 즐겁게 살고 싶다고 말했습니다.

[녹취: 라티그 대표] “To remain fun and to be able to help more North Korean refugees.”

VOA 뉴스 김현진입니다.

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2018-01-13 Eben Notes: “What a Wonderful Night”

Eben Appleton wrote: It was a special night for Teach North Korean Refugees, TNKR, when TNKR fans Sandra Durnick and Amanda Sheffy hosted a fundraiser for the all-volunteer group at the Hidden Cellar located in Seoul, Korea.

That’s what happens when a community rallies around a group and supports their humble project of helping North Korean refugees by teaching them English.

TNKR depends solely on fundraisers in order to continue their English teaching program. How much was donated? Over 1 million won! An additional amount of 340,000 won, was won in a final raffle by TNKR Academic Coordinator, Janice Kim. After winning, she immediately donated the money to the fundraiser. TNKR Co-founder, Casey Lartigue Jr., pulled the final raffle ticket and was pleasantly surprised by her donation. Thank you Janice Kim!

Director Lartigue felt he should have said more about TNKR during the party fundraiser, but instead spent the entire evening appreciatively thanking those many who were in attendance.

Personally, I wish I had been there to see the excitement of my many friends at TNKR. I realize the fundraiser will help them to sustain their amazing organization for another year.

Tomorrow will be a busy, back to the old grind, kind of day at the office. I am certain those at TNKR are still “walking on air” from the night before.

Congratulations, dear friends, and thanks to all supporters who know a good thing when they see it.

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2018-01-13 What a Beautiful Night: TNKR fundraiser by Sandra and Amanda

One of TNKR’s underlying goals is to build a community of support around North Korean refugees. We do this by connecting them with volunteer tutors and coaches.

What happens when a community rallies around TNKR? That’s what it felt like at the Hidden Cellar when TNKR fans Sandra Durinick and Amanda Sheffy hosted a fundraiser for us last night. They rounded up a team that included Samantha Murphy, Kim Noriko Durinick, Jamila Charles, Reza Carr, Jay Wiltz, Hannah Ruppert, Renee Dupuis, Tom Moran, Jamie Kembrey, 송인환 and Hyeona Hong. (Thanks to Kim Noriko Durinick for adding the names.)

I should have said more about TNKR, but my entire speech was thanking everyone. TNKR volunteers, our new fans, everyone rallying around our humble project helping North Korean refugees.

It was a special night in TNKR history, one that we will never forget. In all, the team raised more than 1 million won. It was our special night, because we won an additional 340,000 won in a final raffle—I pulled the number of TNKR Academic Coordinator Janice Kim. She promptly donated the money—I can’t promise that I would have donated it if I had pulled my own number!

Today we were back to the grindstone, holding two orientation sessions for incoming tutors and students. It was tough, doing this on a Sunday, after working at TNKR for every day so far this year. But we were all walking on air after last night’s wonderful fundraiser.

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2018-01-12 Feedback and Speaking Out

Friday was a busy day!

* TNKR Senior Fellow Tony Docan-Morgan held 1:1 feedback sessions with coaches in Track 2 (public speaking).

* TNKR Ambassador Eunhee Park gave a fantastic talk at a private event at our office.

Support TNKR 

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Eben’s Notes: “You can’t save the world.”

Today’s Eben’s Notes summarizes the TEDx Talk by TNKR co-founders Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee!

People want to save the world. You can’t save the world, but here is what we can do. Don’t be an observer. Take your thoughts to the public. Save the world by finding a cause. “Finding a cause is like joining the Mafia, it is easier to get in than to get out”. Before you try to change the world, act locally. These are the words of Casey Lartigue Jr., a black man from Missouri City, Texas, who traveled 7000 miles to Seoul, Korea after leaving a distinguished career in Washington, D.C..

In D.C. as a Think Tank Analyst with the Cato Institute, and a Master’s Degree from Harvard Univ. in Education, he joined a coalition to help develop the School Choice Program there. This voucher program allows underprivileged children the freedom of choice by giving them the opportunity to choose their own schools. In so doing he observed the empowerment felt by the parents of these children when given the freedom of choice in this situation.

After years of dealing with the political bureaucracy and the “Cocktail Party” thinking in D.C. he took a “road less traveled” to Seoul and eventually met Eunkoo Lee, in 2012. A shy South Korean woman from a small town on the border of North Korea. She was a researcher in Human Rights for NK people, with a Master’s Degree. She decided to join forces with Lartigue in March of 2013 to combine their passions for freedom of choice and opportunity by co-founding TNKR (Teach North Korean Refugees), an English teaching program for NK refugees.

Eunkoo felt that the refugees were passive due to the oppression they experienced under the Kim Regime.

The following TEDx presentation outlines the sought after teaching program, disagreements between the co-founders regarding the passive nature of the refugees, and Lee having to admit that by being given the freedom of choice, the refugees became empowered by the ability to choose their own tutors. There are many moments of amusing comments such as when one refugee contacted Director Lartigue directly and eagerly asked him, “English, teach me?”. Obviously, she was no longer passive. There are 70 refugees on the TNKR waiting list at the moment. TNKR doesn’t find the refugees, they find TNKR, says Lartigue. Even with their limited funds as an all-volunteer group, their passion for helping the refugees keeps them going.


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2018-01-11 Pushed to the bathroom

We have five rooms in our office–2 study rooms, 1 common area, 1 office for directors, 1 bathroom. At one point, all five rooms were being used, with one staffer making a phone call from the bathroom so he wouldn’t bother other meetings.

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2018-01-04 Anyone else spot a trend?

In the last two days at the TNKR office:

* Open House with volunteers interested in joining TNKR

* Interviews with nine refugees entering or rejoining TNKR.

*  Two Refugee Adjustment Transition Sessions for refugees on TNKR’s Waiting List.

*  Two interviews by major media

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Listen to the refugees in theory, or practice

Several refugees came into the office the last two days. One of the questions I ask them is: What is your main learning goal?

Their responses the last two days:

  • Conversation.
  • Conversation, grammar.
  • Conversation, grammar.
  • Conversation.
  • Conversation.
  • Writing and Speaking.
  • Conversation.
  • Conversation

Anyone spot a trend?

Some tutors joining TNKR think I’m a bit rough when I correct the mistakes of refugees, especially in Kakao exchanges. Should I listen to the refugees, then ignore what they say? When refugees join TNKR, I ask them if they would like to be corrected immediately or later on. The responses the last two days:


Anyone spot a trend? Is it unreasonable for me to correct their mistakes on the spot? I tell some of the sensitive teachers who worry that I’m being rough on the refugees: “Don’t worry. North Korean refugees are used to self-criticism in North Korea.” I then add, “Over the last few years, so many refugees have thanked me for correcting their mistakes, some have told me that it was the first time they had been corrected.”

I ask students if they want tutors to use Korean when teaching. Their responses the last two days, as translated by TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee:

  • The tutors should use English. When I first studied Chinese, I knew nothing. They didn’t teach me using any Korean, but I learned Chinese anyway. I have been in this kind of situation before, I can handle it.
  • That is okay if the tutors want to use Korean to teach me. But I don’t want it. It is better to use English only, then I can learn faster.
  • That’s okay, but I already speak Korean. What I need is for a teacher to teach me in English.
  • Definitely I am okay for the teachers to use Korean, I am at such a low-level that the teachers may have trouble teaching me. But TNKR is English-focused, right?
  • I hope the teachers can understand some Korean. My English level is so low that the teachers may not want to teach me. I hope they will teach me in English.
  • No, I don’t want the teachers to use Korean. I heard that TNKR is the place where teachers only use English, that’s why I came here. I already studied in a class with the teacher using Korean, I don’t feel that I learned. Now I hope I can study only in English.
  • I am okay because I am at the ABC level. But I hope the teachers will use English, not Korean. I need to improve everything about English, I heard that the teachers in TNKR only use English.
  • Using Korean doesn’t seem to be a good approach. I really prefer that the teachers only use English. If the teacher uses Korean, then maybe I will rely on it too much so I won’t learn.

Anyone spot a trend? They say they want English. Should I listen to them or just ignore them? When they agree to the use of Korean, it is to make the teachers feel comfortable because the refugees believe the teachers will be bored and disappointed with their low English levels. What I have learned is that once the basic level English learners are with tutors that they will give in if the tutors use Korean or some of the refugees who lack confidence will use Korean. We tell the tutors to remain firm, but some allow the refugees to run from English. And then we have the occasional tutor who insists on using Korean.

I guess the prospective volunteers who join us and try to tell me how to run TNKR believe I haven’t learned anything after working with more than 300 North Korean refugees the last few years and interviewing many of them over the last few months. Most of what we hear from refugees is good, although yesterday we did hear from one of the refugees about one of the tutors inviting her to join his religious and personal activities without informing us.

Academic Coordinator Janice Kim embraces our approach and she reminds tutors of the importance of teaching the refugees in English.

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TNKR in the media

Some people are amazed by how much media coverage TNKR gets. No one is more amazed by it than I am.

  • We don’t have a paid staffer handling media.
  • We don’t have a media specialist.
  • We don’t have a media list.
  • The volunteers handling our main social media are English teachers in South Korea who want to help us in their spare time.
  • I run our main Facebook group, which is like having asking a hungry bear to pat you on the head. Is anyone surprised that I get banned by Facebook about once a month and have probably had my account downgraded so that fewer people will see my messages? 

I have been asked what is our secret to getting so much media coverage. The answer is so simple.

We do great work.

We attract media based on the great and important work that our team does. Some people want to give me credit, but I suspect that we receive a lot of media coverage despite me.

Hwang In-Cheol declared it is a “miracle” how much the media has been paying attention to his campaign to have his father released from North Korea.

Big-time media interviewing me.

I found my home: A face made for radio, being interviewed by a radio outlet.

I love TV people because they don’t run from cameras.


Refugee Adjustment Transition Process (AKA, In-house tutoring)

We received some bad news: Our landlord has put our building on the real estate market. Our lease will be up in July 2018, so at that time we may have to move out, depending on the next landlord. We *may* have to move out. I mentioned this on Facebook, we immediately had some people asking when we were moving out. I’m surprised there wasn’t  a moving truck in front of the TNKR office this morning, as arranged by fans who concluded we must move out immediately.

Others may be panicking, but TNKR has been so unstable for so many years that we are surprised to have had stability since July 2016.

We love this office, but we will need to upgrade eventually.

  • We would like to have more tutors and students come to our building to have a closer relationship. Some volunteers join us, get picked by refugees, then we never see them again (and even get bothered by our demand that they include us in all conversations with refugees they meet through us and are lazy about sending in tutoring reports).
  • We would like to talk to refugees more often to make sure they are having a good experience. In occasional calls, they tell us a lot, but naturally we learn much more in face-to-face discussions at our office.
  • We would like to attend more classes.
  • One refugee who has been studying with us for months (but also missed several classes) still can’t answer basic questions. After I tested her, she and her tutor kind of woke up, and became more focused in their class. She was no longer sleep walking and the tutor was reminded that he doesn’t need to over-teach.
  • A refugee told us yesterday that two of her tutors speak so fast that she can’t understand anything they say, but the tutors haven’t sensed it and haven’t adapted to the refugee’s level (she says her other tutors bring things down to her level).

We now have two volunteers tutoring refugees in our office. We always learn something from joining the classes briefly and talking with both the refugee and tutor after the class. Youngmin has been our main tutor helping refugees get prepared for the Matching sessions. We have occasional drop-ins offering to help, but we do need stability with this part of the program. Alex has now joined us and pledged to be with us long-term.

We would like to expand this part of TNKR so we can help more refugees get prepared before they join the main part of TNKR, but we must be careful to expand this because we don’t have adequate classroom space, not enough tutors who can commit to come to our office regularly, and we still must keep our activities focused on the main parts of TNKR (Matching sessions of Track 1 and 2 so refugees can choose their tutors and coaches and have flexibility).


TNKR Open House

We had a fantastic Open House session last night. Several attendees came up with ideas for events, fundraising and other activities.

I love these sessions, great brainstorming, last night we came together like a team.

The hard part? The follow up. That team scatters into different directions, people don’t answer follow up messages or they disappear never to be heard from again, some people start hanging out doing things unrelated to the reason we came together.

At some point, we are going to have a Volunteer Coordinator who can take charge of talking with volunteers and even have a person in charge of managing Open House sessions.

We have volunteers last night who volunteered to help with and join our Book Club, to translate TNKR material into other languages, to join as tutors and coaches, to help with social media, to connect us with larger organizations and websites that can bring awareness, and most importantly, with fundraising.



Volunteer reading about Hwang In-Cheol’s campaign to have his father freed from North Korea.

Support the Bring My Father Home campaign

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2018-01-02 ‘Will my tutors quit?’

TNKR co-founder and National Director Eunkoo Lee received a phone call from a refugee who joined us recently. Her main comments and questions for Eunkoo:

Are my teachers okay even though I am an ABC level English speaker? They must be having a tough time dealing with me. So they might want to quit?

I was determined to try English only, but when I met my teachers, I guessed that some of them might be willing to use Korean because of my low level. But none of them have used it and one told me that it is against TNKR policy. I think this shows that TNKR teachers understand how refugees need to study English.

I am so happy to continue studying, but I am worried that my teachers will be bored helping a student like me who is so basic at English.

In addition to that student:

  • Eunkoo had three face-to-face interviews with refugees eager to join TNKR.
  • A refugee who is really eager called to ask if he can join the next Matching session. He recently joined us and wants to study more.
  • A refugee who has been studying in TNKR consistently since joining in early 2016 called to ask if she can rejoin soon.
  • A refugee who did not have a good experience in the past now sent a long message saying that she can now understand our approach. At that time (2014 or 2015), she thought there was a problem that we did not have a set curriculum that students had to follow. But she has heard from other refugees about the way the teachers adjust to the students, and she can see that she wasted her opportunity to study with us because she was waiting to be led by the teachers.
  • Plus many nice notes and messages from refugees in TNKR over the holidays and today.

When we have so much activity around us, of refugees reaching out to us, I think about those “experts” who “know” that refugees are passive and need to be led.


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TNKR in USA Today: “North Korean defectors must overcome big challenge once free: Learn English”

“North Korean defectors must overcome big challenge once free: Learn English”

Thomas Maresca, Special to USA TODAY


PDF of tear sheets

2018-01-02 TNKR in USA Today (1)

2018-01-02 TNKR in USA Today (2)

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2017-12-27 Best Rose visits TNKR

Eunhee Park joined TNKR in April 2015. These photos would have been impossible then.

We have met her many times–I can’t recall ever having a meeting where I didn’t feel inspired after meeting her. Every meeting has laughs, jokes, but she is also an extremely thoughtful lady, so eventually the topic gets serious.

She is a lady who wants to learn, enjoy her life, and do something that she can be proud of. 

And when she talks about TNKR, Eunkoo and I always feel like–“YES! THIS IS WHY WE STARTED TNKR.”

Eunhee is one of our Ambassadors, she has even raised money for us and wishes for the day we will have a strong organization. Here’s her fundraiser. She has raised more than 500,000 won for TNKR.

And here’s my Korea Times column last year about her, “Her name is Eun-hee Park.” She was the first refugee in TNKR who went from anonymous and nameless to becoming a public figure. In the last year she has appeared in numerous TV shows–and we were even on “On My Way to Meet You,” 이만갑 AKA 이제 만나러 갑니다 on 채널A” together.

Eunhee loves TNKR, and TNKR loves her. 🙂

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