Back in the day when I was a college reporter, I learned that a good reporter talks to at least three sources for an article. Relying on one person is the laziest form of reporting. I used to get surprised by reporters who didn’t want to talk to others, but I got used to it. I don’t mean enemies and ideologues who even hate what I have for breakfast–I mean, even someone who can add perspective and knowledge about what we are doing with TNKR.

I encourage reporters to talk to others in TNKR who have leadership positions. There is some risk in this, because some reporters only see what they see, and they will report the observations of newcomers who barely understand TNKR. A volunteer who stands up and says someone off-the-wall is a great man-bites-dog story. When I look at some articles about TNKR a few years ago, some include volunteers who probably haven’t thought about TNKR in years, didn’t know much about it then beyond their limited experience, and had no idea about things we were planning or dealing with to build the organization. 

This reporter who is working on an online article interviewed me, co-founder Eunkoo Lee, Assistant Director Dave Fry, Academic Coordinator Janice Kim, tutors, and refugees in TNKR. Plus, he stayed for more than 3 hours to observe one of our matching sessions. He has also followed up with questions. He could, like many reporters, get some facts wrong, but it won’t be because he didn’t try to get an understanding about TNKR. It would be because, like most reporters, he didn’t show me the article in advance. As I’ve learned, most reporters would prefer to get complaints about what has been posted or published rather than discussing it in advance to check for misunderstandings. 🙂

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TNKR co-founders Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee were interviewed twice–once for background, then the second time “for real” for the article.

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When Columbia University professor Young Seh Bae visited South Korea in 2016, she stopped by our office to do some volunteer work. Unlike so many volunteers who want to help the refugees directly, she provided expertise helping us develop TNKR. Sometimes I get surprised when people say they want to help build up TNKR. The result is such indirect help really does help refugees. A strong TNKR is able to help refugees more efficiently and effectively.

Prof. Bae wanted to know about some of the things we wanted to do. She then zeroed in on our process of learning about what refugees wanted to study. We didn’t have a set curriculum, so we needed a better process of learning. She then designed an Individual Education Plan beyond what I would have ever done. I then tweaked it based on interviews with refugees, and continue to tweak it.

It is a great example of a professional helping us to build up TNKR.



When refugees join us now, we start with the IEP. TNKR co-director Eunkoo Lee will also interview them in Korean to make sure we have a good understanding of what they want. It helps that Eunkoo is at TNKR every day, rather than just talking with refugees in her spare time.

We aren’t probing or engaging in data-mining for the sake of collecting information–we focus on how we can help them have a better experience in the program.

Sometimes it is really moving because so many of the refugees know who we are, some even want to take photos with us (with their cameras). Some consider us to be heroes. One began crying recently as she thanked us and others who help refugees. Many of them are curious about we are doing this, when clearly it is not lucrative and we could both be doing other things to make money.

So many of them say: “Don’t forget about me.” They know we have a long waiting list, so they want to make sure we don’t forget about them. Some have called us, insisting they be able to visit, even when we tell them that they must wait. Many of them even contact us directly, eager to let us know how much they want to study. 


It is good to know that TNKR has such a solid reputation among refugees. Some of the newcomers don’t realize how difficult it is to have such a good reputation, and of course we still have some vultures around us who use any excuse to meet the refugees socially (a common trick now is the playboys who hang around the program and try to find opportunities to meet refugee females, and some even highlight that they used to be TNKR, but now they are not so it is okay to date or hang out).

The last few weeks have been busy, with a number of speeches, events, meetings, and planning. Plus, to keep myself from going poor, I am now teaching at a university, meaning that I can’t focus on TNKR completely these days.

I had a Volunteer Leadership Academy orientation in mid-February to get people to start thinking about ways they can get more deeply involved in TNKR. I was hoping to have someone take charge of that, but it looks like it will still be up to me to get it going. So I am now planning another session for April 15.

Teach North Korean Refugees began as “English Matching” in March 2013. We didn’t have long term plans, but yesterday we held our 71st Language Matching session. We had 11 refugees and 19 tutors join the session, meaning we have now had 345 refugees and 744 volunteer tutors and coaches participate. This little “hobby” has grown into a leading organization providing practical support for refugees adjusting to living outside North Korea and building skills.

Session #71 set a number of records:

  • Early early bird registration! 1:15 a.m. signup. Yes, a refugee showed up 13 hours in advance to register.  The second refugee yesterday arrived at 9:35 a.m. He said that he had arrived in the area at 9 a.m., but didn’t believe that anyone would arrive that early so he waited before knocking on the door. Imagine his shock when I told him he was second.
  • His own faculty: One of the refugees chose 9 tutors. Yes, 9 tutors! There were 19 tutors in the room, so he selected 47.4% of them. Whereas universities and schools have ratios of 1 faculty member to 15 to 30 students, TNKR has a student-tutor ratio in the favor of students. In the case of that student, it is a 9 teacher to 1 student ratio! So he has own English teacher faculty. He called TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee to let her know that he still couldn’t imagine what we meant by refugees choosing, but after going through the session, he can’t believe TNKR isn’t the most famous refugee support organization in the world. He has been with other NK refugee support organizations, he said the others can’t compare to us.
  • Distance: Tutors are coming from all over Korea to tutor, including one tutor who has pledged to come to Seoul from Busan twice a month to tutor with us. That is more than 200 miles (325 KMs).
  • Fundraising: Of the 19 tutors at the session, 10 had set up fundraisers before joining the session. Seven more became monthly donors before joining the session. Only two of the 19 tutors neither became monthly donors nor set up fundraisers. Usually it is the opposite, that we have ony a handful of tutors helping us build the organization. I told them that we have never had a group show so much enthusiasm and energy.


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TNKR at the Asia Liberty Forum
February 10-11, 2018
at Jakarta, Indonesia

  • TNKR was honored as a Asia Liberty Award Finalist on February 11, 2018, at the 2018 Asia Liberty Forum.
  • TNKR Ambassador Eunhee Park delivered a meaningful and thoughtful Cornerstone speech on February 10.
  • TNKR Co-Founder Casey Lartigue introduced TNKR’s main activities during a luncheon.

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2018-02-13 경기일보 (Gyeonggi Newspaper)

2018-02-14 United Press International




Los Angeles Times front page article: Koreas’ unified women’s hockey team has exposed a key difference between South and North — their language

Some immigrants from the North — who risk their lives to leave — face difficulty and discrimination in the South because they lack vocabulary or use differing dialects and accents. Others struggle with cultural assimilation that’s related to language, such as not understanding jokes or an unfamiliarity with pop culture references, said Lee Eunkoo, who co-founded an organization that helps defectors.

“One of the refugees we taught had the experience of being fired from her job at a bakery because she didn’t know the exact bread names, such as ‘baguette,’ ” said Lee, whose group is called Teach North Korean Refugees.

Three-quarters of the North Koreans said official terms in the South — like those for government, banking and medical interactions — were confusing.

“In the North, we try to use Korean in education and sports, whereas here they tend to just use the terms as they are,” said Ken Eom, a North Korean who defected to Seoul eight years ago.

LA Times Front Page_4 Feb (PDF)

LA Times page 4, mentions TNKR (PDF)




TNKR Reading_Resource List, 2018-02


TNKR Book Club: Study Guides by Dr. Tony Docan-Morgan

March Book Club Discussion of Yeonmi Park’s In Order to LIve 

January 20 Book Club Discussion of Sungju Lee’s Every Falling Star


Dünyayı kurtaramazsın – işte yapabileceğimiz şey bu | Casey Lartigue Jr & Eunkoo Lee | TEDxDongdaemun

 ““>You Can’t Save the World

Eunkoo: Ben. Yanılmışım. Çoğu insan yanıldıklarını itiraf etmeyi sevmez, ama ben şahsen rahatsız olmadım çünkü bu durum bana seçimin güzelliğini gösterdi. Ne hakkında yanıldığımı açıklamadan önce, düşüncelerimi değiştiren birçok referanstan birini paylaşmak istiyorum.

Son dört yıldır birlikte çalıştığımız 300 tane Kuzey Koreli mültecilerden biri olan Eunhee Park şunları söyledi: ”Hayatım TNKR sayesinde çok değişti, TNKR bana yepyeni bir dünya açtı. Eskiden insanlara Kuzey Koreli olduğumu söylemekten utanıyordum, ama artık yüzümü ya da adımı saklamamaya yetecek kadar özgüvenim var. Casey ve Eunkoo’ya güven kazanmama yardımcı oldukları için her gün müteşekkirim.”

Bu güzel bir referans. Peki bu nasıl oldu?

Casey: Bugün dünyamızda büyük bir sorun, bu kadar çok insan dünyayı kurtarmak istiyor, ancak bulundukları yerde pratik bir şey yapmıyorlar. Onların çoğu her sabah dünya üzerinde Cennet yaratmak için koşarken, kendi ön bahçelerinde çöplerin üzerinde geziyorlar. Hepimizi kurtarmak için ulusal yada küresel planları olan insanlarla karşılaştığımda şunu soruyorum: “Tüm dünyayı veya dünyadaki tüm okul sistemini değiştirmeye başlamadan önce geri kalan biz, ölümlülere göstermek üzere en azından bir okul, program ya da gösteri projesi ayarlayabilir misiniz? ” Küresel düşün yerel davran eski bir deyiştir ve hala bugün geçerlidir. Read more

No se puede salvar el mundo—esto es lo que podemos hacer

Casey Lartigue Jr. y Eunkoo Lee

Eunkoo: Yo estaba equivocada. A la mayoría de la gente no le gusta admitir cuando están equivocados, pero a mí no me importaba porque en este caso, me mostró el futuro del escogimiento. Antes de que explique en qué me equivoqué, quiero compartir uno de los muchos testimonios que cambiaron mi pensamiento. Eunhee Park, uno de los 300 refugiados norcoreanos con los que hemos trabajado en los últimos años, dijo: “Mi vida cambió por TNKR. Me abrió un mundo completamente nuevo. Solía estar avergonzada de decirle a la gente que soy de Corea del Norte. Pero ahora, tengo la confianza para no esconder mi cara o mi nombre. Cada día, agradezco a Casey y Eunkoo por ayudarme a ganar confianza en mí mismo.” Esto es un testimonio hermoso. ¿Entonces, cómo sucedió esto?

Casey: Un gran problema de nuestro mundo actual es que tanta gente quiere salvar el mundo pero no hacen nada práctico donde se encuentran. Muchos de ellos se tropiezan con la basura en sus propios patios para crear un paraíso en la Tierra. Hay muchas ideas para difundir, pero salvar el mundo no es una. Cuando encuentro a gente con planes nacionales o globales para salvarnos, le pregunto: “¿Antes que tratar de cambiar un sistema escolar o el mundo, podrías por lo menos establecer una escuela, una programa, o un proyecto demostrativo para mostrar al resto de nosotros, los mortales, cómo se hace?”

“Piensa globalmente, actúa localmente” es un viejo dicho que todavía se aplica hoy. Read more


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: Read more