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2018-04-28 Matching session 74: I wanna choose first!!!

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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2018-03-17 Matching 71: Recording breaking session!

Teach North Korean Refugees began as “English Matching” in March 2013. We didn’t have long term plans, but yesterday we held our 71st Language Matching session. We had 11 refugees and 19 tutors join the session, meaning we have now had 345 refugees and 744 volunteer tutors and coaches participate. This little “hobby” has grown into a leading organization providing practical support for refugees adjusting to living outside North Korea and building skills.

Session #71 set a number of records:

  • Early early bird registration! 1:15 a.m. signup. Yes, a refugee showed up 13 hours in advance to register.  The second refugee yesterday arrived at 9:35 a.m. He said that he had arrived in the area at 9 a.m., but didn’t believe that anyone would arrive that early so he waited before knocking on the door. Imagine his shock when I told him he was second.
  • His own faculty: One of the refugees chose 9 tutors. Yes, 9 tutors! There were 19 tutors in the room, so he selected 47.4% of them. Whereas universities and schools have ratios of 1 faculty member to 15 to 30 students, TNKR has a student-tutor ratio in the favor of students. In the case of that student, it is a 9 teacher to 1 student ratio! So he has own English teacher faculty. He called TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee to let her know that he still couldn’t imagine what we meant by refugees choosing, but after going through the session, he can’t believe TNKR isn’t the most famous refugee support organization in the world. He has been with other NK refugee support organizations, he said the others can’t compare to us.
  • Distance: Tutors are coming from all over Korea to tutor, including one tutor who has pledged to come to Seoul from Busan twice a month to tutor with us. That is more than 200 miles (325 KMs).
  • Fundraising: Of the 19 tutors at the session, 10 had set up fundraisers before joining the session. Seven more became monthly donors before joining the session. Only two of the 19 tutors neither became monthly donors nor set up fundraisers. Usually it is the opposite, that we have ony a handful of tutors helping us build the organization. I told them that we have never had a group show so much enthusiasm and energy.

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2018-01-13 What a Beautiful Night: TNKR fundraiser by Sandra and Amanda

One of TNKR’s underlying goals is to build a community of support around North Korean refugees. We do this by connecting them with volunteer tutors and coaches.

What happens when a community rallies around TNKR? That’s what it felt like at the Hidden Cellar when TNKR fans Sandra Durinick and Amanda Sheffy hosted a fundraiser for us last night. They rounded up a team that included Samantha Murphy, Kim Noriko Durinick, Jamila Charles, Reza Carr, Jay Wiltz, Hannah Ruppert, Renee Dupuis, Tom Moran, Jamie Kembrey, 송인환 and Hyeona Hong. (Thanks to Kim Noriko Durinick for adding the names.)

I should have said more about TNKR, but my entire speech was thanking everyone. TNKR volunteers, our new fans, everyone rallying around our humble project helping North Korean refugees.

It was a special night in TNKR history, one that we will never forget. In all, the team raised more than 1 million won. It was our special night, because we won an additional 340,000 won in a final raffle—I pulled the number of TNKR Academic Coordinator Janice Kim. She promptly donated the money—I can’t promise that I would have donated it if I had pulled my own number!

Today we were back to the grindstone, holding two orientation sessions for incoming tutors and students. It was tough, doing this on a Sunday, after working at TNKR for every day so far this year. But we were all walking on air after last night’s wonderful fundraiser.

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Anyone have time to read this?

Years ago I read an article about a man who kept track of every detail of his life. The result is that he had boxes and boxes of diaries documenting every little detail. My question when I read the article: How in the world can he get anything done if he is busy writing every moment about what he is doing?
 
Few people have read his diaries and I don’t even remember his name now. That’s not surprising. After all, who wants to read about a guy using the bathroom at 7:40 am, then making a phone call 15 minutes later at 7:55, then checking the mail at 8:05, stubbing his foot in the door at 8:07, looking at the dog barking across at the street at 8:10 after he slammed his hand in the door as he was daydreaming about recording in his diary the exciting events of the past 30 minutes? 
 
Sometimes I fall behind in posting things about TNKR–because we are too busy DOING them. Here’s a wrap-up of some our recent activities. Clearly I’m smarter than the guy keeping all of those diaries. Instead of writing every detail, I take photos. But then, who in the world wants to look at all of our photos?
 
In this post:
Feedback and interviews with refugees
Youngmin Kwon, TNKR Academic Adviser
Interviews about TNKR
Visitors to TNKR
Leaving the TNKR Cave
TNKR Team
Not in this post:
Matching session on December 9
Orientation on December 10
Bring My Father Home Press Conference
…and other stuff I can’t remember or no one took photos…
 
FEEDBACK
 
When refugees first join TNKR, Eunkoo Lee and I conduct separate interviews. We do this as an initial session before the orientation to get to know the refugees a bit, to make sure they understand that this is a low-budget self-study program, to lower their expectations, to make sure we have an understanding of why they are joining TNKR, and to make sure they are thinking ahead about how to use TNKR well.
 
So many are overjoyed–some want to take photos with us because they have heard about TNKR. Others are thankful they finally have a chance to study with us. The initial interviews are always great. The refugees who have come in recently range from recently arrivals referred to us by other refugees or government agencies to refugees who have been here for a decade or more but have failed to learn English. Too many wonderful and sad stories, but my conclusion: North Korea is a screwed up country that unnecessarily keeps many of its people ignorant about the world and then cruelly punishes those who seek to escape to the outside world.
 

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2017-11-26 TNKR Matching 66: Sitting-room only!

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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2017-11-11 TNKR Open House was a Full House!

TNKR held an Open House on November 11 to discuss our activities and to encourage volunteers to get involved. Most people who join us naturally want to tutor refugees directly, but we have other needs and also need some people to help us in other ways.

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2017-11-10 TNKR staff changes

I’ve heard from volunteers that one of the great things about volunteering with TNKR is that they can take up leadership roles, and they can do so in English.

Staff changes within the last week:

Janice Kim has taken over as Manager of Track 1. Eunkoo Lee and I have developed it over the years, making sure that it offered refugees a maximum amount of autonomy to make decisions while also making it as flexible as possible for volunteers. Janice has shown that she understands our approach and that she also ideas how to expand and implement this. She’s been a monthly donor to TNKR and organized our team at the recent KOTESOL conference. She will be speaking at tomorrow’s Open House.

 

 

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