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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.

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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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“You Can’t Save the World”–Finnish Translation by Jasmin Fosse


You can’t save the world–here’s what we can do | Casey Lartigue Jr & Eunkoo Lee | TEDxDongdaemun (Finnish Subtitles)


Eunkoo: Minä olin väärässä. Suurin osa ihmisistä ei halua myöntää, kun he ovat väärässä, mutta minua ei haitannut, koska tässä tapauksessa se näytti minulle valinnan merkityksen. Ennen kuin selitän, mistä minä olin väärässä, haluaisin jakaa yhden monista lausunnoista, jotka muuttivat minun ajattelua.

Eunhee Park, yksi 300:sta pohjoiskorealaisista pakolaisista, jonka kanssa olemme työskennelleet viimeisten neljän vuoden aikana, sanoi: “Elämäni muuttui TNKR:n ansiosta ja avasi minulle täysin uuden maailman. Minua ennen hävetti kertoa ihmisille, että olen pohjoiskorealainen, mutta nyt minulla on luottamusta olla piilottamatta minun kasvojani ja minun nimeäni. Joka päivä olen kiitollinen Caseylle ja Eunkoolle siitä, että he auttoivat minua kasvattamaan luottamusta itseeni.” Read more

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2017-12-22 former Psychological Warfare Officer in NK visits TNKR

That’s right, Jang Jinsung dropped by the TNKR office on Friday. When he was in North Korea, his job was to spread propaganda in South Korea. He did his job so well that he was named a favorite Poet Propagandist of Kim Jong-Il. He later escaped to South Korea, he has written several books including Dear Leader. He is one of the refugees connected with TNKR who has agreed to sign books as part of TNKR’s Book Club. He is now on TNKR’s Board of Directors, the first time he has served on a board of directors. He has governments and strategists about North Korea around the world seeking his advice, so we are honored that he is such a fan of our humble organization. Here’s his interview with TNKR last year, in English and Korean. He is one of the refugees who has issued strong public testimonials on our behalf.


Jang Jinsung signing a couple of copies of his book for TNKR donors.

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Anyone have time to read this?

Years ago I read an article about a man who kept track of every detail of his life. The result is that he had boxes and boxes of diaries documenting every little detail. My question when I read the article: How in the world can he get anything done if he is busy writing every moment about what he is doing?
Few people have read his diaries and I don’t even remember his name now. That’s not surprising. After all, who wants to read about a guy using the bathroom at 7:40 am, then making a phone call 15 minutes later at 7:55, then checking the mail at 8:05, stubbing his foot in the door at 8:07, looking at the dog barking across at the street at 8:10 after he slammed his hand in the door as he was daydreaming about recording in his diary the exciting events of the past 30 minutes? 
Sometimes I fall behind in posting things about TNKR–because we are too busy DOING them. Here’s a wrap-up of some our recent activities. Clearly I’m smarter than the guy keeping all of those diaries. Instead of writing every detail, I take photos. But then, who in the world wants to look at all of our photos?
In this post:
Feedback and interviews with refugees
Youngmin Kwon, TNKR Academic Adviser
Interviews about TNKR
Visitors to TNKR
Leaving the TNKR Cave
Not in this post:
Matching session on December 9
Orientation on December 10
Bring My Father Home Press Conference
…and other stuff I can’t remember or no one took photos…
When refugees first join TNKR, Eunkoo Lee and I conduct separate interviews. We do this as an initial session before the orientation to get to know the refugees a bit, to make sure they understand that this is a low-budget self-study program, to lower their expectations, to make sure we have an understanding of why they are joining TNKR, and to make sure they are thinking ahead about how to use TNKR well.
So many are overjoyed–some want to take photos with us because they have heard about TNKR. Others are thankful they finally have a chance to study with us. The initial interviews are always great. The refugees who have come in recently range from recently arrivals referred to us by other refugees or government agencies to refugees who have been here for a decade or more but have failed to learn English. Too many wonderful and sad stories, but my conclusion: North Korea is a screwed up country that unnecessarily keeps many of its people ignorant about the world and then cruelly punishes those who seek to escape to the outside world.

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