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2017-03-21 TNKR featured by Koreana magazine

Teach North Korean Refugees has been featured in the Spring 2017 edition of Koreana magazine (Vol. 31 No. 1). The author of the article is journalist Kim Hak-soon, a Visiting Professor at the School of Media and Communication at Korea University.

Koreana (PDF)



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2017-03-12 Hottest Seat in Town (TNKR Matching 54)

At our speech contest on Feb 25, we squeezed 130 people into a room fit for 80, with some attendees at the back of the room having to stand. Yesterday at our Matching session, we squeezed 31 people into a room fit for 20. That means that the late-comers had to sit on the floor yesterday.

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2017-01-07 “I cannot have this opportunity anywhere else”

We had an orientation with refugees entering TNKR’s 52nd Language Course. Wow, it was a special session! So much love for TNKR, they can’t wait to meet the volunteer tutors. Read more


2017-01-04 Key Moments

TNKR started in March 2013 as “English Matching.” We didn’t have a long term plan, there were virtually no guidelines, we had no office, website, phone. A key moment is when we began to raise the level of expectations. Tutors began to take it more seriously and refugees began referring friends and they began returning. It was about our fifth or sixth session that every refugee had been referred or was returning to the program.

This morning I was visited by a refugee who studied with us shortly before she studied abroad. As she was returning, she contacted me to let me know that she would like to rejoin us!

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2016-12-21 “Better than Pagoda”

Story 1: We were visted today by an NK refugee with her daughter who has been studying in our  program. They brought gifts to us and the mother wanted us to know how much she appreciates what we are doing to help her daughter learn English. Her daughter studied at Pagoda, which she said was good, but she said that TNKR is even better.

Of course, some of our tutors have come to us from Pagoda, so I’m not sure they have any magic when they come to us.

Mom was stunned when she learned more about TNKR, she didn’t realize it was run completey by volunteers and that the tutors are all volunteers.

Then she was even more thankful.

The other in-house tutor students who visited also gave gifts for the office. One of the refugees wrote us all wonderful notes in English thaking us for helping her so much. I don’t know her story, but when she first came to us, she was a bit feisty, even suspicious. Now she has embraced the program and I can see that she looks forward to visiting. Her note to me was addressed to: “Representative.”

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2016-12-20 TNKR knows no season

We are just a few days from Christmas, but our office was non-stop busy today.

I was reminded today what a real reporter is like. She read many articles and watched videos about TNKR in advance. She had good sharp questions. Everything interested her. She talked to me, refugees, tutors, volunteers, everyone in the office.

I have had a couple of lousy reporters show up, look around, interview one or two people briefly, then do their show or article without any perspective. In some cases, it even seemed they had made up their minds before they talked with us.

The reporter who showed up today will be doing a feature article about TNKR sometime in January. She even read about my days when I was volunteering for the Mulmangcho School.

Welcome to TNKR! It was her first day tutoring-and she got interviewed by a reporter with a huge media outlet.

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2016-12-12 Will we have enough tutors in 2017?

A little while ago I had an “off-the-record, no photos allowed” conversation with an influential South Korean who told me that he doubted TNKR would be able to raise money in South Korea. He said that my academic background and professional career in the USA would impress many South Koreans, BUT:

  • TNKR lacks government connections. Most funding for NGOs comes from the government, not individual or company donations.
  • Companies will be afraid of us because we are dealing with NK refugees. Securing government funding would make us seem more stable.
  • South Koreans don’t donate their own money.
  • TNKR lacks an international or Korean celebrity.
  • And… ‘You’re a foreigner. Koreans think you will steal the money they donate and then run away to America.”

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2016-12-09 Teaching Machine forced to take a break

The TNKR tutoring machine returned. Today Grace tutored 6 refugees for nine hours, with only a short lunch break. This photo is from yesterday when one of the students canceled. She was hanging out, waiting for her next chance to tutor. Yesterday she tutored 4 refugees for 6 hours. I want her to do tutor reports, but I guess it would be unrealistic to expect her to remember details of each session.

A funny moment was when she politely suggested that I should test the refugees like I did last year at the end of each class. I would do that because they would be comfortable with her, so I wanted to break up the flow, to have the refugees explain what they had just learn as a way to reinforce. I could take Grace’s comment one of two ways:

1) That was great for the refugees or 2) You’re slacking off.


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2016-12-07 “I never imagined there could be such a program”

Media and other curious people often ask me how refugees find TNKR. A refugee I met today says he was referred to us by a North Korean refugee working as an administrator at a university. She sent him the link to an interview I had with Sophie Jieun Shin in late 2015. He said: “I never imagined there could be such a program.” The refugee also mentioned that he was inspired by Yeonmi Park’s success.

He says he was not able to pay for private tutoring, then he got lucky when he was referred to TNKR by another North Korean (not a TNKR student). When I hear such things, I am reminded why we decided not to charge refugees to join the program and hoped that we could work with volunteers to build a community of support around refugees. Read more

2016-12-06 Planned Photobombing…

One of the refugees seems to be planning each week how to photobomb photos we take of students and tutors. I should have known she had something planned. She asked if I was going to take a photo!

As you can guess, she has a lot of fun in her class. Today she also brought us some Korean snacks.
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