I came to the office at 3 am, to make sure I wouldn’t arrive at the office late today. That’s because we are having Matching session #81, and the students in this group made it clear that they would be arriving early.

The Matching session will start at 2 pm. The first refugee who arrived was knocking on our door at 9:15 a.m. The second refugee arrived at 9:30. The third one arrived about 15 minutes later. Yes, three students have arrived more than 4 hours in advance.

One of the students said that he hopes to select 10 tutors. He has already made his schedule and he showed me all of the research that did to get prepared for today. He checked all of the resumes in detail, did a complete breakdown on tutor availability, and has his list of tutors he hopes to be able to select.
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* The Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR) is holding its 80th language matching session. The sessions almost always start at 2 p.m., refugees get to choose based on when they arrive at the session. The refugee who arrived this morning knocked on our door at 8:45 a.m. Yes, that’s more than 5 hours in advance.

* The refugee finished her part-time job at 2 a.m., left her home this morning at 7:30 a.m., arrived at our office at 8:45 a.m. We tell them not to arrive before 9 a.m., so we held her official registration until 9 a.m., in case someone else arrived at the official approved time.

* Yesterday we held six hours of sessions in three different meetings–a fundraising workshop led by Maureen Byrne, a social media planning meeting led by TNKR co-founder Casey Lartigue, then a book club discussion featuring refugee dissident Kang Chol-Hwan (translation by Youngmin Kwon). And now we are back, at the TNKR office early this morning.

We are holding this session today against my will, I knew it would be a mistake to hold a matching session in the middle of August because so many people are on vacation or not paying attention. Plus, we really need to be focused on our upcoming speech contest. Today will be the smallest matching session, assuming no one cancels. As I quoted activist Howard Fuller in a recent Korea Times column: “If you are planning a meeting for 100 people, but only three people show up, then you’ve got three people to work with.”

Why are we holding this Language Matching session? It is because of North Korean refugees lobbying TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee (who then began pestering me). We have now had almost 400 refugees study in TNKR–but many ask to return. While it would be better for us to keep bringing in new people, we try to make space for those refugees who want to return. It gives TNKR’s overworked staff even more work to do, but when a refugee who has barely slept after working at a part-time job knocks on your door because she wants to be the first to choose tutors? The squeaky wheels also get the grease in TNKR.

She just watched Thae Yong-ho’s video about TNKR, and said, “He really understands TNKR.”

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Why North Korean defectors learn English
The Korea Times
by Casey Lartigue Jr.
2018-08-12

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The non-profit organization Teach North Korean Refugees held its 74th Language Matching session yesterday. We had 11 North Korean refugees and 18 tutors participate (1 tutor canceled and another was a no-show). The session started at 2 pm–the first refugee to register for the session arrived at our office at 9:50 a.m. That’s right, slightly more than 4 hours in advance!

Why was she so early? Simple! First-come, first-choose! The refugees get to choose their tutors based on when they arrive to the session. So the refugee who arrived first was able to choose first. She is a returning student with us who first joined us in 2015 at the ABC level.

The others were so disappointed, especially the ones arriving three hours early who found out they were already sixth and seventh in line.

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A special feature about TNKR Matching sessions is that refugees get to choose their tutors. The refugees do the choosing based on when they arrive at our office. In our early days, we hosted sessions at other offices, so we usually weren’t allowed in before noon for our 2 pm sessions.
Then we moved to our current office in July 2016, so refugees started arriving earlier, with the record earliest arrival getting to our office at 9:20 a.m. Yes, almost 5 hours early.
As of 2018-03-17, we now have a new record: 1:15 a.m.

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Today TNKR will be having its 67th Language Matching session. It will be a Track 2 session, allowing refugees who want to learn and practice public speaking to choose coaches who will assist them.

The session starts at 2 pm. The earliest arrival: 10:40 a.m. Based on resumes, she has already identified 3 coaches, she will choose first, then hope at least one of the other coaches will still be available when she chooses at the start of the second round.

Not many people show up three hours early for a meeting, but in this case, she gets to choose first! So here she is! She is a TV personality, in Korean, often telling funny, serious and interesting stories about life in North Korea. Her English is at a low level, but she’s eager!

The TNKR co-founders were both here to at the TNKR office to welcome her.

So many people ask us: “How do you find the refugees?” Answer: We don’t! They find us!

Others who complain about refugees not being diligent in other programs ask why refugees show up early to our sessions. Answer: They have freedom of choice and get to choose based on when they arrive!

She arrived first so she will also be choosing the winner of the first autographed book that we will be giving away as part of the TNKR Book Club offer for monthly donors.

On Sunday 2017-11-26, Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) just held its largest ever Language Matching session: 10 refugee students, 21 tutors, 1 South Korean student. Instead of standing-room only, it was sitting room only. During the week, we were on pace for a somewhat typical large session, with 16 tutors and 9 refugees signed up. Eunkoo Lee hasn’t checked recently, but we probably have more than 70 refugees on the waiting list to join the program. And with refugees saying at the orientation that they wanted to select several tutors, we decided to hold an emergency orientation session to accept five more tutors.

The question became: What if everyone shows up? We have been on a hot streak recently, with every tutor showing up. We could expand because Janice Kim has taken over as Manager of Track 1. In the past, 15 tutors was all that I could handle alone, in addition to my other many duties for TNKR, and I greatly regretted the time that we had 19 tutors at a session. It isn’t just the session, but the follow up when some tutors disappear knowing I can’t chase them all. Whereas I tend to be grumpy in teaching applicants how to fill out the resume, Janice is delightful, patient.

So we decided to have our biggest session. We only have 22 chairs, so if your figuring ain’t bad, you can guess that about 35 people (including staff) were going to have trouble squeezing into 22 chairs. So we made the decision to move all of the chairs out of the room, and to have everyone sit on the floor, like we were back in elementary school.

Support TNKRhttp://teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/donate/

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(TNKR) Teach North Korean Refugees Language Matching session #66 will be held today from 2 p.m. Students get to choose tutors based on when they arrive to our office, first come, first choose.
As of this morning, we have a new record: 9:20 a.m.
Yes, she arrived almost 5 hours early.
I occasionally have some experts, mainly South Koreans, telling me refugees are passive. My response, as I have been saying since I was a grad student at Harvard, and said when I helped create a school voucher program for low-income parents in Washington DC, have been saying to education experts I encounter, and said again in my TEDx Talk recently: If the people who benefit from your program or activity are passive, then it means you didn’t design it well.
I can’t account for all 30,000 NK refugees who have escaped to South Korea in the last 20 years, but the ones who find us are certainly motivated.

“North Korean refugees are passive.” “They must be paid to join NGO activities helping them.” “They are irresponsible and always late.”

Those are some of the comments I have heard over the years from people at other NGOs, from influential people who hear about refugees from colleagues; and others with grant money to recruit NK refugees into their activities. Many of them don’t believe it when I tell them that TNKR has a waiting list of more than 70 refugees eager to join us and that refugees chase us so they can join TNKR. Even refugees who can’t speak English will message me directly, asking how they can join TNKR.

Today at 2 pm we will be having a Language Matching session, our 65th. The first student to show up arrived at 9:40 a.m. this morning. Yes, more than 4 hours in advance.

Refugees are allowed to choose their tutors and coaches based on when they arrive to our Matching sessions. Ever since we saved enough money to get our own office, refugees have been able to arrive at our office (when we used other people’s offices, they understandably had restrictions on us). Some refugees have asked if they could stay overnight for the chance to choose first.

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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/

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