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
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, grammar.
- Conversation, grammar.
- Writing and Speaking.
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.
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.
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.