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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.

Read more

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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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2017-01-14 “I hate learning English…” “I love you”

The bad news? Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) had the biggest Matching session in its history–11 refugees, 20 tutors. We only have 22 chairs at our office, had only 4 volunteers ready to handle the session. Uh-oh.

The good news? TNKR had the biggest Matching session in its history. That’s even though I almost killed TNKR by expecting all volunteers to make an attempt to engage in fundraising.

Read more


2017-01-07 I almost destroyed TNKR (again)

I have lost count of the number of times I have almost destroyed TNKR. My latest attempt: Expecting volunteers to make good-faith attempts at fundraising.

Read more

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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


TNKR Upcoming Events and Deadlines

* Dec 23, first application deadline for TNKR Matching session 52 (apply)
* Dec 30, second application deadline for TNKR Matching session 52
* Jan 4, Private event
* Jan 7, TNKR Orientation for Matching session 52 (apply)
* Jan 7, TNKR fundraising brainstorming session
* Jan 7, Refugees submit videos to apply for contest
* Jan 9-13, orientation with speech contest coaches
* Jan 14, TNKR Matching session 52
* Jan 14, Coaches resumes due
* Jan 15, TNKR 1,000 won Book Sale
* Jan 15, TNKR/Korea Times Discussion Club 11 am
* Jan 16, Private event
* Jan 16, Contestants informed of status
* Jan 19, Coaches informed of selections
* Jan 27-30, Lunar New Year
* Jan 29, TNKR/Korea Times Discussion Club 5 pm
* Feb 4, Tutor follow-up meeting
* Feb 14, Press conference
* Feb 25, TNKR 5th English speech contest
Recent events
* Dec 12, Annoucement of TNKR 5th English speech contest (for learners)
* Dec 14, update TNKR FAQ
* Dec 14, Christmas party planning meeting
* Dec 17, TNKR Christmas Concert
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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.”

Read more


2016-11-24 Mr. Evans’ Neighborhood

In addition to 17 tutors joining or rejoining our Matching program this week, we also have an in-house tutor starting this week. I went to his first class, he was so gentle, it felt like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. It was also the first class for the student.

Tonight we have a class with a study pair who began last week. The student is really enthusiastic, I can really see how much she has improved. As always, she arrived early, for it was “of course, that was my character.” Her tutor was also so patient, waiting for her to solve English problems rather than just giving the answers. Some teachers seem to hate silence, but she would just wait!

One good thing about tutors coming to our office is that I am reminded how wonderful it is that they give so much of their time volunteering to teach NK refugees. I enjoy reading the tutor reports, but ain’t nuthin’ like the real thing!

Today was a rare slow day for me, only one appointment. It was good because I had a chance to do some reading, writing, planning. Once upon a time, when I was a researcher, I would close my office door and read all day. But it is rare now that I get even an hour or two to myself.



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2016-11-19 “Thanks to Amazing TNKR volunteers” (Matching #51)

1The Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR) held its 51st English Language Matching session yesterday. We began in March 2013, more than 250 refugees and almost 500 volunteers have joined us.

Specific comments from refugees:

  • I arrived in 2011, I will study nursing when I enter a university next year. This was my first time to see so many foreign teachers, I didn’t know there were so many people from so many different countries in Korea. It was so many amazing to meet them, it was so exciting. I want to learn English very hard so I can speak with them all.
  • I arrived in 2015, I am studying at a refugee alternative school, I plan to go to a university later. I want to be able to communicate with people from around the world. I hope my English will be good enough that I will able to teach English as a volunteer later. Thank you so much, TNKR, for giving me this opportunity. At first I was so nervous, this was my first Matching session. I live outside of Seoul so I wasn’t sure I would be able to find tutors, but my wish came true! I am very thankful to my tutors, thank you Casey and Eunkoo, I will do my best. I have five tutors to study with.
  • I arrived in 2009, I am now studying political science at a university. 3I am preparing for TOEIC and I need to be able to understand English because of my university classes. At first, I was thinking to get one or two tutors, but I selected three. Thank you to all of the volunteers and TNKR for making this possible. The mood in the session was active, people were smiling and happy. That made me happy. I met the tutors I wanted to study with, based on the resumes, so I am really satisfied with this session.
  • I arrived in 2006, I am now studying social welfare at a university. I need to study English to improve my grammar and speaking. I am amazed at how many volunteers showed up here, thank you to TNKR for organizing this.
  • I arrived here in 2007, I want to study conversation, speaking, reading and writing. I am studying social welfare, so I will need English so I can help others. I love TNKR, thank you so much for the many volunteers who came here today. I originally thought I would select two tutors, but I chose four! This is a really great program for refugees.
  • I arrived in South Korea in 2010, this will be my last time to use Korean when I talk to TNKR volunteers. I want to express myself completely. I need English because of my major. I am very thankful to volunteers and to TNKR. When I first met Casey, I told him that I thought one tutor would be enough, but I selected three.
  • I arrived in South Korea in 2015, I am studying systems engineering at a university. I need to be able to write essays, engage in converation. I want to say thank you to all of you for volunteering, I hope to gain knowledge of English.
  • I arrived in South Korea in 2014, I want to study pronuncation, listening, and writing. Next year I will take the TOEIC test, I want to study abroad. Thank you to Casey, Eunkoo and the volunteers. I am so happy I returned, i can see that the program has gotten even more organized. TNKR now has its own office so things have gotten more stable. I hope to keep returning.
  • I arrived in South Korea in 2010, I am so thankful to the volunteers. I will be studying abroad, so I hope my tutors will be able to help me get prepared. Thank you so much to Casey and Eunkoo, you have created a wonderful program for refugees, I hope I can meet you very often to show my gratitude.
  • I am South Korean, I want to study English so I can communicate with Casey. I am not interested in deep studying, I just hope that I will be able to communicate with people so I can share more information about TNKR. I am very thankful to the volunteers, I have been volunteering with TNKR, this was my first time as a student So I am so thankful, I hope to have a long term connection with TNKR.

Some random thoughts:

  • Wow, what an active group of tutors. At orientation, the tutors were talking so much, Eunkoo was shocked. Then last night, we got so many messages and suggestions from them! We often regret that volunteers aren’t more active, but with them being so more active, the saying “Be careful what you wish for, it may come true” comes to mind!
  • Recruiting: Most of the tutors said they found us through Facebook and Google. A few found out simply from others clicking “like” on our activities and “going” to our events. So if you don’t know what else to do to help, clicking “like” and sharing our activities can help. Also, many people found us through Google, so I need to find ways to make us more visible through the internet outside of facebook. I have heard of SEO, but I may need to focus on mastering it…
  • The refugees expressed their amazement about so many volunteers being there to help them. A few refugees who had thought about having just one or two tutors increased that to three or four after seeing those lovely volunteers!
  • We had 17 volunteer tutors–2 of them are returnees. We are alway5s happy to have many new volunteers, but it is always great when we have veterans return. I also admire them for being willing to go through the selection process a second time.
  • Yesterday was one of our biggest sessions, the tutors were understanding! We have had a few large sessions before, but in one case, the tutors seemed to be ready to stage a mutiny! We wrapped up the session–introductions from 17 tutors and 10 learners, refresher about expectations, group photo, collecting documents, etc., in 2 and a half hours.
  • Our interns and office assistants were all out yesterday, so thanks to Amy Shin for stepping in at the last moment as our special assistant.
  • After dinner with tutors and refugees, TNKR’s co-directors went back to the office, did paperwork, established separate Kakao groups for tutors and refugees, and connected tutors and refugees so they could begin studying.
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Information about the 51st cohort of tutors
* 40 people applied as tutors
* 17 made it to the Matching session last Saturday (1 cancellation)
Tutors hail from:
USA: 9
Canada: 2
England: 2
South Korea: 2
Scotland: 1
Brunei: 1
Gender breakdown:
Females: 13
Males: 4
Have you met NKs before:
No: 11
Yes: 4
2 are returning tutors
How did you learn about TNKR:
Facebook/Google 8
Casey Lartigue 2
Friend 2
Media 2
Meetup 1
Angloinfo 1
Volunteer opportunities website 1

Are you willing to donate or raise money for TNKR?
10: Yes
5: Maybe
2: No.

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