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2017-05-01 “I can speak English now”

Yesterday at TNKR:

  • Feedback sessions with two refugees
  • International reporter visits TNKR
  • Refugee designs bag for TNKR
  • In-house tutoring
  • Children taking over TNKR

Feedback session 1:

One of the refugees who came by for a feedback session with TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee talked how much confidence she has gained since studying in TNKR. She had previously studied at a language institute but she felt lost in the classes.

  • She never studied English when she was in North Korea.
  • In South Korea, she had taken English classes at language institutes, but felt lost. The South Koreans in the basic class clearly had studied English, whereas she was at the very beginning.
  • She studied on her own, but wasn’t really sure how to study.
  • Then, she saw Yeonmi Park’s One Young World speech. She thought about speaking out, but because of family still in NK, she decided against it, but continued cheering for Yeonmi.
  • She found out about TNKR, then she began chasing me, asking me to meet.

She joined TNKR a few months ago, she has been studying with three tutors since then. She has continued studying on her own, but feels she has some guidance after studying with native and fluent speakers. She says that her friends are amazed (“envy”) that she has three tutors who are helping her to improve her English.


Feedback session 2:

When she first came to us, she only spoke Korean. She even seemed a bit suspicious of us at first. She hasn’t said it, but it seemed that she was wondering, “What’s the catch?” She began studying hard, then her tutor realized that he wasn’t helping her by speaking Korean to her. Then, a few few months later when their class was going to end because she was going to join the Matching program, she said the key thing for her was when her in-house tutor stopped using Korean to translate things for her. For the first time, she had to start thinking in English.

She says she is now active in her classes at school, that she has gained confidence her studying with two tutors.


TNKR student Joseph has designed a new TNKR bag (on the left). He is one of the first refugees I met, we lost contact a few years ago when I lost my flip phone, but he later found me on Facebook!

He said he likes our current TNKR bag, but he thought he could add our new logo to a bag that we could sell at events.


TNKR Special Ambassador Sharon Jang was interviewed yesterday by an international reporter visiting South Korea. Sharon has been with us for two years, it is always great to see her!

The reporter interviewed me also to find out about a bit about me.


TNKR super volunteer Youngmin Kwon was at it again yesterday!

  • He arrived at 6:30 a.m.
  • He worked on Mr. Hwang’s “Bring My Father Home” campaign.
  • Translation work when we need it.
  • Plus, tutoring a student. In March, he and TNKR Assistant Director taught the most classes by any TNKR tutors and have raised the most money since we launched a new crowd-sourcing site.


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2017-04-28 Not a drive-by reporter

Even though TNKR is for only adult students and volunteers, I have realized that we do need some toys for little people! Many of them can be distracted by videos or computer games, but some of them also like to explore the TNKR office.

A reporter who stopped by to interview me brought her children, including her daughter who seemed to be amazed that the man talking to her mother in the other room was also on the computer, so that bought us some time for the interview. Eventually she left with the last stuffed toy at the office, so next time, I can’t be sure what will happen when a little person shows up.

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2017-04-20 Hansarang Foundation Award ceremony

I remember the moment I was nominated for the special “Social Contribution” Prize awarded by the Hansarang Rural Cultural Foundation.

My response: “Hahaha. I know I won’t win, but it is nice to be nominated.”

Then later I heard that I was a finalist, that’s when I began to take it seriously. Then I was informed that I had won. So last night, it was a great feeling to be on the stage, accepting the award, still not quite believing that I had won.


There have been a few news articles about it.




Eunkoo Lee captured my “Did I really win this?” moment.


I was one of the six award winners. It was a great moment.

Then there were several photos of the award winners.

I also took some individual photos. The Hansarang Foundation had a professional photographer snapping away taking photos anytime we stopped to pose for photos.

I took photos with several of the VIPs in attendance. It was a wonderful night, one that I will never forget.

And… several TNKR volunteers, students and fans joined! I was so happy to share this moment with them.

They were cheering so loudly that even the announcer commented on the TNKR table!


And of course, I would not have won it without TNKR co-director Eunkoo Lee!

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2017-04-20 Visit to UN office, TV interview

  • Yesterday morning:
    • I was delighted to be part of an interview with one of the Big 3 networks in South Korea.
    • Part of it included another visit to the UN’s Seoul office.
  • Yesterday evening (my next post)
    • I was honored to win an award from a Korean foundation.


Hwang Cheol was being interviewed about his campaign to have his father released from North Korea. The TV team interviewed a few of us to provide perspective to his campaign. We then wrapped up with a visit to the UN office.

Yes, they also interviewed me. I usually have a love-hate relationship with the media. As it has been said, “The interview is the honeymoon, publication is the divorce.”

The host who interviewed me is so lovely. She seemed to enjoy the interview and wasn’t the least bit shy when it was time to take photos! Sometimes I think I am in the wrong field, so many of the volunteers who collaborate with me run from the cameras. I remember one day that I received an email complaint from one guy whining that I’m always in the TNKR photos. That’s back when I used to answer critics, I politely informed him, “You idiot, if you had joined any of our sessions, you would know that most volunteers run from the cameras and our default with refugees is not to show their faces unless they make it clear they don’t mind.”

2017-02-03 Interview about Korean reunification

I was interviewed by students doing a research project about reunification.

I warned them in advance: The interview should take less than five minutes, based on how little I know about the issue. But during the interviewe, I had a flashback to my days as a radio host in the USA, and talked a long time…

Reunification just isn’t my issue. As I wrote in the Korea Times in mid-2014, during a mini-speaking tour to the USA: “I enforced the same rule that I use in South Korea whenever I discuss North Korea: Only one question about reunification will be allowed during Q&A.”

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2017-02-01 Special TV Interview is Coming

Of course, I was fine with the interview request, they wanted to highlight me in a special TV feature. Luckily, we were able to convince Eunkoo, “a shy Korean lady,” to also join, it should make the feature even better. Because she is now with TNKR as a full-time volunteer, she can join all of our events–even when she doesn’t want to do so!

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What in the world is TNKR doing?








Recent media featuring TNKR

  • 2017-01-19, Korea Times, “NK refugees learn English to survive”
  • 2017-01-16, Korea Times, “Education of Lee Eun-koo”
  • 2017-01-10, Yonhap News Feature, “Free English tutoring program helps N.K. defectors adapt”
  • 2016-12-28, News1, “[카드뉴스] ‘탈북민’에 영어를 선물하는 파란눈의 선생님들”
  • 2016-12-26 Stars and Stripes, “Defectors tell of challenges before and after fleeing North Korea”
  • 2016-12-19, Korea Times, “Time and a dime”

2017-01-11 Korea Herald reprint of TNKR Yonhap article

Yonhap did a very nice feature on TNKR. It is difficult to be featured by Yonhap, they report on breaking news and choose selected features.

The Korea Herald reprinted the Yonhap article yesterday, but with fewer photos.

Yonhap also did a previous profile on TNKR co-founder Casey Lartigue (in Korean), in late 2015.


2016-12-21 TNKR greatly overestimated (magazine article forthcoming)

A university professor visited TNKR to interview the co-directors for a magazine article. He was prepared! Several pages of notes, he had read many articles about TNKR and even watched some of the videos in our YouTube channel.

People sometimes ask me: What is the benefit of media writing about TNKR?

1) It builds a track record for us. 2) It can inform people about us, occasionally causing new members to find us.

Definitely answer 1 is becoming more common these days, reporters and writers have no excuse showing up ignorant about our program.

Sometimes I have mixed feelings about interviews. TNKR looks much more powerful in the media than it is in reality. We rarely turn down interviews, but I also know that people also overestimate our capacity.

2017-01-09 update

A photographer from the magazine came to visit TNKR.

We were in the middle of several things–wrapping up an orientation session, saying goodbye to volunteer applicants, transitioning to another orientation. We had to stop for a few minutes to take a few photos.