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:

Immediately.
Immediately.
Immediately.
Immediately.
Immediately.
Immediately.
Immediately.
Immediately.

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.

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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).

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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

Applicants and bilinguals who struggle with the TNKR pedagogical stratagem will be politely dislodged and ejected for an opposite transition process from TNKR.”

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A fan dropped by to donate some books to TNKR. He refused to take photos, but he can see here that one of the refugees joining TNKR is very happy to have gotten a book in English! Yes, you can also donate books to TNKR, although we have limited space.

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TNKR on Cable TV

 

 

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So many things were going on today.

  • One of the refugees in TNKR was interviewed by a reporter from Canada. It was an extended interview. What I liked about this reporter is that he took his time–he interviewed me twice over the past few weeks, Hwang In-Cheol, a refugee, TNKR volunteers. That is unlike some recent bad experiences we have had with reporters, especially from NPR, Unreported World and some reporters not even worth mentioning.

Paul returned for more in-house tutoring with a refugee visiting Seoul, taking a study break to join TNKR. She lives way down south, but she learned about TNKR, contacted us to say she would be in Seoul. She has been studying with two tutors and will add a third soon.

The entire team was really busy today, planning upcoming events.

We have raised 70% of our matching donation challenge with 9 days to go! Yes, all donations to the fundraisers participating in the Matching challenge will be doubled!

 

The last two days we have been visited by two ladies who had a big impact on TNKR. In early 2015, I received an email from a young lady in the USA who wanted to be a summer intern with TNKR.

TNKR wasn’t even an official organization at that point, we were operating out of the now-defunct Freedom Factory Co. I made sure to downplay her expectations, to let her know just how humble we were, I was sure there were bigger and more established organizations that could provide her with a quality experience.

But no, she wanted to join us. She was so polite, calling “Mr. Lartigue,” and studying TNKR to find her role. She even read my rants in the Korea Times.

Christine Kim was our first intern, and she set a very high standard. Translator, editor, tutor, administration, she did it all without ever complaining even though she was a teenager, and teenagers are experts at complaining at and about old folks. She certainly had her opinions and would add them to the conversation.

Near the end of her internship, I received a Facebook message from a North Korean refugee who had heard about our program. But she had realized that she had a wait a long time before she could start studying. So she appealed directly to me. I had dinner with her and Christine, to get an understanding of the refugee’s needs. During the conversation, I suddenly realized that 2+2=4. Christine was tutoring refugees in the Freedom Factory office. We were developing a waiting list of refugees. Why not have tutors help refugees on the waiting list? That way, they could get English while they waited to join a Matching session. In-house tutoring was born just as Christine was leaving.

We continued in-house tutoring, first with teaching machine Grace Lee, then we put aside some cash to rent a separate office within the Bitcoin Center so we would have a place for refugees to visit as an introduction to TNKR.

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Christine is in town for a short visit, she came to visit us. The student who helped to inspire in-house tutoring happened to visit TNKR for a feedback session with TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee.

 

*** Read more

Yesterday was our first full day back at the TNKR office after the TNKR directors visited England for a week.

  • Tutoring sessions
  • Speech coaching
  • Visit to an event location
  • Planning meeting for Global Leadership Forum

It finally happened. We ran out of space, so the TNKR co-directors were pushed out of their own office.

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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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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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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

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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