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2017-09-17 TNKR Matching 63

On Sunday, TNKR held a large Matching session with 10 refugeees, 17 volunteers tutors, and 7 volunteer staff members. 

Support TKNR: http://teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/donate/

Volunteer: http://teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/volunteer/

Breakdown Read more

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2017-07-22 TNKR 61st Matching session


Student 1:
I am a student who attended the TNKR Matching Session on July 22, 2017.
I arrived at 1:00 pm.
It was very apparent that Mr. Casey, Ms. Eunkoo, and Youngmin teacher were very busy preparing for the session.
As the session began, the 12 volunteer tutors introduced themselves one by one. All of them had such warm smiles on their faces, and I felt honored to be given the opportunity to study with them as a North Korean refugee. Words cannot adequately convey how happy I felt to see so many volunteer tutors willing to help us improve our English.
It also dawned on me how much the international community was focusing on the situation surrounding the Korean peninsula, particularly in North Korea.
It was also fascinating to see all the students introducing themselves one by one and being given the power to choose their own tutors. It was a very special system unheard of in other organizations.
As a student, I was particularly thankful for the strict policy of only using English and banning the use of Korean in classes. I initially planned to choose 2 tutors, but I ended up choosing 4 tutors.
Two students even chose 5 tutors each.
I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to all the tutors from various countries (USA, UK, New Zealand, etc.) for caring so much about us despite their busy professional schedules.
And I would like to sincerely thank TNKR for shining a light of hope to all the North Korean refugee students.
I also feel hopeful that all of this English support, big and small, will have a monumental impact on the Unified Korea in the future.
Hurrah to the Great Unified Republic of Korea! Glory to our elders from the United States of America!

Translated by: Youngmin Kwon

Edited by: Anna Martinson


TNKR began in March 2013 with co-founders Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue matching a few North Korean refugees with volunteer tutors at a small “English Matching” session. Yesterday TNKR held its 61st Language Matching session. We have now matched almost 300 refugees with more than 600 tutors and coaches. We’ve designed sessions so that that tutors teach at least 2 refugees at least twice a month. That means that refugees can have a few tutors but volunteers won’t be overburdened. The result is that in a typical session, refugees select at least three tutors each and volunteers can have two refugees each. Yesterday worked out so that tutors accepted 2.5 refugees each and refugees hauled away 4.3 tutors each.

  • 12 tutors
  • 7 refugees

Refugees Read more

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2017-07-02 TNKR Matching: “When can I start?”

TNKR called an Emergency Matching session because we were getting so many requests from refugees. We decided to try to squeeze in another session before our regularly scheduled July 15 Orientation/July 22 Matching session. On such short notice, would we be able to recruit enough tutors?

Yes! Over the weekend, we had 2 orientations with refugees, 1 with tutors, an Open House with volunteers, and a fantastic Language Matching session yesterday. Below are some of my notes.

Participants at TNKR’s 60th Language Matching session:
6 refugees, 10 tutors.

When did refugees arrive in South Korea?
2008 (1)
2009 (1)
2013 (2)
2015 (2)

Read more

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2017-07-02 English Emergencies

I arrived at the TNKR office early this Sunday morning. The reasons?
* Two study sessions starting at 11 a.m.
* Skype call at 11:30 am.
* Waiting for refugees who may arrive early for the matching session.
* Orientation by TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee for a student who couldn’t make it yesterday.
* Another study session at 1 pm.
* Matching session from 2 pm.
Thankfully I arrived even earlier than I had originally planned. As I was starting to type this post, one student arrived at 10:50 a.m.! Yes, for a 2 pm session, she arrived more than 3 hours in advance. This beats the previous record of 11:30 a.m. Some fans wait in line to buy new tennis shoes or video games. Refugees in TNKR show up hours early so they will have the chance to choose tutors.
I think it was more than two years ago that TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee suggested that students choose based on when they arrive, and since then we have eliminated the problem of students showing up late. The issue now is that we must arrive early enough to meet students as they are arriving.
Eunkoo admits that she once thought that refugees were passive, but that if a program is designed properly, then even people who seemed to be passive can be actively engaged. We have a waiting list of 70 refugees eager to join TNKR, which is why we had an emergency orientation and will have an Emergency Matching session later today.
We have two volunteers who are tutoring and coaching this morning, both classes started at 11 a.m. It is amazing that we have so many people willing to give so much of their time to help North Korean refugees learn English.
Mark is having his first coaching session at TNKR. He first learned about us from TNKR’s appearance on 이만갑. His student has been with us for quite a while, she has studied English in many places. She says the difference is that TNKR tutors focus on her particular learning needs, rather than her having to follow a curriculum or to study in a group session.
Louise has been tutoring in TNKR since late 2015. It is rare to have a tutor stay for so long with a single student. The student arrived about 20 minutes early for her class. What an improvement since she first began. She thanked me and said she is always thankful to TNKR for giving her such a great opportunity to study 1:1 with an English tutor for free.
Kaina joined TNKR earlier this year. She and her student have been studying continuously since then. This morning her student brought her a small gift. 🙂
We recently called for an Emergency Matching session, thankfully we had 10 tutors who went through the application process and came to the session. When I called it, I wasn’t sure we could get enough tutors for a session. We will be having our 60th Language Matching session later today, so I will be updating this.
We held an Emergency Orientation yesterday afternoon to get prepared for today. 10 volunteers answered our call for a Language Matching session this weekend. I often say that TNKR could not survive without volunteers. We feel it even moreso this weekend because we have been able to squeeze in another Orientation and Matching session to slightly reduce the waiting list of 70 refugees.
What’s even more incredible is that many of the volunteers stayed around for the Open House right after the Orientation. Anna Martinson, TNKR fundraising manager, led the session.

Read more

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Emergency Tutor Recruitment session (70 refugees on the waiting list)

A great and terrible thing is that TNKR has 70 North Korean refugees on the waiting list to get into our program.

The good news is that our program is in demand. Every day we have refugees asking us when they can join the program. Refugees already in the program are asking us when they can join again (after their tutors have returned to their native countries).

The bad news is that it is hard to meet the demand because we can only accept refugees into the program based on the number of available volunteer tutors.

Who is on the waiting list? I asked TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee to give me a few cases:

* One refugee who contacted us says he has an opportunity to study overseas but needs to improve his English.

* Two refugee dancers have opportunities to perform internationally, but they need English so they can answer basic questions.

* Two refugees who are singers are on our waiting list, they hope to improve their English so they can introduce themselves properly.

* A couple of refugees say they can’t graduate yet until they can score at a certain level of English.

* A housewife finally has time to study, but we aren’t sure when we can let her into the program, and we worry that when we can accept her into the program that she won’t have time to study.

* A couple of refugees with children hope they can improve their English to speak it with their children. Their children are all getting support to help them learn English, but there are few opportunities for adults.

* Several NK refugees have come to us asking if they can study English during the summer.

If you or anyone you know would be interested in tutoring, please let them know about our emergency Teacher Recruitment session this weekend.

We need a few more tutors to sign up to help refugees waiting for their opportunity to study 1:1.

Apply here: http://teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/volunteer/

Minimum 3 month commitment, twice a month.

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2017-06-11 “I appreciate that volunteers help North Korean refugees” (TNKR Matching session 58)

Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) started in March 2013 as a hobby for TNKR co-founders Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue Jr.. Although it is still operating with a small budget–$18,000 in 2015, $40,000 in 2016–it has become an internationally known NGO that has been featured in major domestic and international media.

Earlier today we held Language Matching session number 58. The attention is naturally on the refugees, but I think it is easy to forget that today we had 8 new volunteers sign up with the agreement that they will tutor refugees twice a month for a minimum of three months for 90 minutes each session. With tutors on average accepting two refugees, it means they will be tutoring at least once a week for free.

For Eunkoo and Casey, it is all so beautiful to see that after four years we still have many volunteers coming to TNKR to help refugees. Many organizations fail or go bankrupt after three years, but we have held on, have a solid reputation, and are continuing to grow with new supporters finding us. We never get tired of it despite the struggles in building an organization from nothing into something. We now have some volunteer staffers who are seeing all of this for the first time. One began crying as he was making a presentation, getting choked up as he discussed tutoring students. Two other new volunteers attending their first Matching session also said they got choked up listening to the refugees discuss why they needed English and they were impressed with volunteer tutors explaining why they wanted to help.


Overall, about 55 percent of students in TNKR are college students, but today was an exception, 80 percent of the refugees joining today are working.

Reasons students stated for joining: Read more

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Happy Birthday, Eunhee Park!!!

Eunhee Park, a TNKR Special Ambassador and a member of TNKR’s Refugee Leadership Team, is celebrating her birthday today! Unfortunately, she “celebrated” with a difficult exam at the end of her freshman year in college.

I am always inspired by her passion for life and joy of freedom. She is still the only refugee in TNKR history to go from Track 1 only (for English study) to Track 2 (public speaking). Here’s the column I wrote a few months ago about her incredible transformation.

When I first met Eunhee in April 2015, she didn’t use her real name and she didn’t show her face in photos. She joined TNKR so she could study English. In the group photo in the bottom right corner, she is hiding behind others, with the peace sign.


****************************************************************************************** Read more

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TNKR Matching 57: “TNKR are superheroes”

Teach North Korean Refugees began in 2013 as a hobby for its founders Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue. They were matching North Korean refugees with volunteer tutors willing to help them practice English. From its humble beginnings, TNKR has now had about 280 refugees study with more than 580 volunteers. It has been featured in both domestic and international media. Volunteers from around the world seek it out.

Yesterday 9 refugees, 14 volunteer tutors, and 4 volunteer staff members squeezed into the largest room at TNKR’s office for the organization’s 57th Language Matching session. There were so many poignant, fun, and inspirational moments.

First, the data:


9 refugees selected an average of 3.1 tutors.

14 tutors were selected by an average of 2 refugees each.

It means that refugees have a variety of tutors and the tutors are not burdened too much. So our formula of having refugees choose as many tutors as possible while asking the tutors to accept at 2 refugees each is working out quite well.

One refugee who is quite eager and has a lot of free time chose 6 tutors. At the orientation on Saturday, she had said she would like to have 5. Then she increased that to six.

One refugee chose four.

Four chose 3 tutors each.

Three selected 2 tutors each.


Of the 14 tutors:

9.5 from the USA
2.5 from South Korea
1 from Canada
1 from England


Three tutors are returnees, including one who has been with TNKR since December 2015. Two of them were previously tutors, one was a coach.

Their main comments after the end of the session:

  • Felt like the bachelor TV show.
  • That was intense.
  • It was a little intense, now I’m ready to do my job.
  • I was impressed by how much English they already know.
  • They are empowered to make decisions, that is a great thing.
  • It was definitely nerve-wracking.
  • This has all been super informative, I’m feeling pretty happy.
  • I’m happy and honored, and impressed this is so student-centered.
  • I will put all of my effort into this.
  • It was nerve-wracking, I felt like I was back in gym class when sides gets chosen.
  • It was touching, I’m pumped to get started.


Why are the tutors joining us?

  • I wanted to help NK refugees. TNKR is perfect for that.
  • I did research on refugees in the past.
  • I love to give back.
  • I want to help, I’ve been a tutor in TNKR before.
  • I attended TNKR’s last speech contest, the stories were amazing. After that, I wanted to join as a volunteer.
  • I tutored refugees before and I love languages, so this is a great opportunity to combine both.
  • I tutored refugees back when I was in the USA, I would like to start my own school helping refugees.
  • I don’t have a reason not to join. This is better than staying at home eating cereal.
  • I saw a video featuring Yeonmi Park, I then learned that she had studied in this organization.
  • My professor in my university in the USA recommended this program to me.
  • I am very interested in the NK situation.
  • I have family members who escaped from North Korea during the Korean war.
  • I have tutored refugees from other countries.
  • I love Korean culture.

Next, I will add some information about refugees at the session.

Support TNKR

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2017-04-02 Track 2: Refugees taking charge

TNKR started in March 2013 as “English Matching.” It was a hobby for the co-founders, as they did this on the side. TNKR is now an emerging NGO with its own office. We still have no paid staff, but despite this, we have held 55 Language Matching sessions with about 270 refugees and more than 560 volunteer coaches and tutors. Yesterday’s session was special because it was a Track 2 Matching session. Whereas we hold at least one Track 1 session per month at which refugees choose tutors for English study, we only hold Track 2 sessions (public speaking and other communication) when enough refugees request it.

Yesterday 7 refugees chose among 9 coaches (3 had last minute scheduling and other problems so there were 9 instead of 12). TNKR is a self-study project, with the focus being on refugees finding their own way and telling their own stories. We connect them with volunteer tutors and coaches to help them with that. After having orientation and discussing their projects, the refugees are really eager to get started.

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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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