Today I shared the stage with Anne Choe, president of the Seoul International Women’s Association. She discussed the founding and history of SIWA, American business and culture, and inclusion. The students had many questions so it was a lively session.

After that, I went to a discussion, “How are North Korean women supposed to speak?” It was quite incredible because several attendees came over to introduce themselves, they let me know that they read my columns and blog posts for the Korea Times. One attendee had already looked up TNKR and recognized me as soon as I started to ask a question. She wants to volunteer, but she is an unusual applicant: She wants to engage in teacher training. Most people I meet at events want me to hand them refugees. It was also a bit unusual for me to join such an event, recently I have been focused on TNKR and skipping dinner and event invitations.

The only downer: People continue asking me the stupid question, “What do North Korean refugees miss about North Korea?” I used to answer the question patiently, but these days, I go off just a bit, basically reciting my column from months ago.

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We’ve had several speech opportunities the last few weeks, I am slowly catching up on updates.

  • TNKR Ambassadors, including a trip to the USA
  • Harvard Alumni for Education forum
  • Kurt Achin and Oh Young-jin on journalism in Korea and the USA

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TNKR at the Asia Liberty Forum
February 10-11, 2018
at Jakarta, Indonesia

  • TNKR was honored as a Asia Liberty Award Finalist on February 11, 2018, at the 2018 Asia Liberty Forum.
  • TNKR Ambassador Eunhee Park delivered a meaningful and thoughtful Cornerstone speech on February 10.
  • TNKR Co-Founder Casey Lartigue introduced TNKR’s main activities during a luncheon.

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One of the worst things one of our volunteers said a few years ago when one of the refugees had another speaking opportunity: “Oh, I’ve already heard that refugee’s speech, so I won’t be missing anything.”

She didn’t mean to be rude, I’m sure. It is mainly a misunderstanding about what we are trying to do with our Track 2 (public speaking) program. So many people look at refugee speakers in a snapshot, that when they hear a refugee speaker once, they’ve got that refugee’s story, and they are ready to move on to the next refugee. What they don’t know is that many refugees develop their speeches. We don’t expect them to be perfect or polished speakers when they first join TNKR, we expect they will develop.

There are many refugees who have no concept of public speaking with they first start with us. And even though many reporters and their editors want to hear from refugees who have just escaped from North Korea, the reality is that many newcomers don’t really have that much to stay.

When there is a debate about which term to use, refugee or defector, I make the point that some refugees become defectors because they learn a lot about North Korea after they arrive in South Korea. I have seen a few who have gotten angry when they learned more about the evil North Korean regime. For some of them, it just seemed to be a problem with local officials, that someone with power had targeted them, or a family member’s problems had made staying untenable. After escaping, they learned that it was a bigger problem, that the system was designed to strip them of their rights and humanity.

My point is that a speaker you see in 2015 will probably be different from the speaker you see in 2018 and beyond. We sometimes struggle with coaches because they want to take shortcuts, put words in the mouths of refugees, even want to write speeches for the refugees. Some get bothered by our restrictions, but we want the refugees to develop their speeches based on their own ideas and their own intellectual and personal development.

That has definitely been true of Ken Eom. When he first joined us in March 2015, I wasn’t sure that we should allow him to speak at another event. I won’t discuss the problems, but I did talk to his coaches to give them pointed feedback.

He has done a lot of reading about North Korea, sharpened his English, done a lot of thinking, and given many speeches. We now have a case of a man who was once loyal to the North Korean regime now giving stories denouncing it.

Ken is now studying policy analysis in grad school and already has many opinions, he can tell stories about his life, analysis about North Korea, and even dabble in public policy. I can tell that he is not interested in continuing to repeat the same stories about his life, like a musician who grows tired of singing his first hit and wants to expand to new music. Last week Ken did both, telling his escape story from North Korea but also mixing his analysis and commentary about North Korea.


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Friday was a busy day!

* TNKR Senior Fellow Tony Docan-Morgan held 1:1 feedback sessions with coaches in Track 2 (public speaking).

* TNKR Ambassador Eunhee Park gave a fantastic talk at a private event at our office.

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So much love! On December 20, I was the guest speaker at a girl’s high school in Seoul. They welcomed me like I was a movie star.

During my speech, none of them fell asleep. Some of them were even nodding their heads “yes” when I made important points.

During Q&A, they had good questions. They had read many articles about TNKR and watched some of my interviews.

The topic was volunteerism in a global age. Some of the students say they want to volunteer with TNKR. What is clear is that these know what TNKR is and they are much more aware about issues related to NK refugees.

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I was at the center of attention, they treated me like a star!

The teachers seemed to love my speech, but they may want to clarify or explain my point that those high schoolers are usually too young to be useful volunteers. 🙂

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How often do you have a meeting, with both sides declaring, “I’m so inspired by you!”

It happened last night, when I met Rola Brentlin (recommended to me by Nigel Ashford and Kerry Halferty Hardy) during her short trip to Korea. She posted on Facebook that she was inspired to learn about TNKR.  In my case, I was inspired that she took such an interest in TNKR, and then took that interest to the next level! She wants to help TNKR with funding! 

“Inspiring meeting with Casey Lartigue Jr. who runs an organisation helping North Korean refugees. I would very much like to help them with funding, any ideas for how we could raise some funds for this important work is welcome!”

We now have more than 60 volunteers and fans who have set up fundraisers. Recently we have had well-connected people express interest in helping us build up TNKR. That is always inspiring!

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They did the DMZ tour. They heard a speech from a North Korean refugee. They even listened patiently to a long speech I gave, and they asked many questions, too. Incredibly, none of them went to sleep, despite waking up at 5 am and spending the day at the DMZ.

These kinds of events are always fun. When the host asked me how long I could speak, I responded, “About TNKR? I can talk until tomorrow.” I was going to say until the day after tomorrow, but I guess I am getting more humble.

The kids had many questions, but they did wait until the start of Q&A to ask any.

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I had a great time at the annual Harvard alumni dinner. Former UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon was the keynote speaker. Of course I told him about TNKR, but so many people were trying to tell him about their activities that he probably won’t remember. He did compliment me, as a foreigner, for doing so much to help NK refugees.

Park Jin, renaissance man. Former national assembly member, college professor, connected with so many important people. He says he is a fan of TNKR, he always asks how things are going.


She’s a former Miss Korea. I gave her my card, she said she was interested in my work and that she would message me soon.