When Columbia University professor Young Seh Bae visited South Korea in 2016, she stopped by our office to do some volunteer work. Unlike so many volunteers who want to help the refugees directly, she provided expertise helping us develop TNKR. Sometimes I get surprised when people say they want to help build up TNKR. The result is such indirect help really does help refugees. A strong TNKR is able to help refugees more efficiently and effectively.

Prof. Bae wanted to know about some of the things we wanted to do. She then zeroed in on our process of learning about what refugees wanted to study. We didn’t have a set curriculum, so we needed a better process of learning. She then designed an Individual Education Plan beyond what I would have ever done. I then tweaked it based on interviews with refugees, and continue to tweak it.

It is a great example of a professional helping us to build up TNKR.



When refugees join us now, we start with the IEP. TNKR co-director Eunkoo Lee will also interview them in Korean to make sure we have a good understanding of what they want. It helps that Eunkoo is at TNKR every day, rather than just talking with refugees in her spare time.

We aren’t probing or engaging in data-mining for the sake of collecting information–we focus on how we can help them have a better experience in the program.

Sometimes it is really moving because so many of the refugees know who we are, some even want to take photos with us (with their cameras). Some consider us to be heroes. One began crying recently as she thanked us and others who help refugees. Many of them are curious about we are doing this, when clearly it is not lucrative and we could both be doing other things to make money.

So many of them say: “Don’t forget about me.” They know we have a long waiting list, so they want to make sure we don’t forget about them. Some have called us, insisting they be able to visit, even when we tell them that they must wait. Many of them even contact us directly, eager to let us know how much they want to study. 


It is good to know that TNKR has such a solid reputation among refugees. Some of the newcomers don’t realize how difficult it is to have such a good reputation, and of course we still have some vultures around us who use any excuse to meet the refugees socially (a common trick now is the playboys who hang around the program and try to find opportunities to meet refugee females, and some even highlight that they used to be TNKR, but now they are not so it is okay to date or hang out).

The last few weeks have been busy, with a number of speeches, events, meetings, and planning. Plus, to keep myself from going poor, I am now teaching at a university, meaning that I can’t focus on TNKR completely these days.

I had a Volunteer Leadership Academy orientation in mid-February to get people to start thinking about ways they can get more deeply involved in TNKR. I was hoping to have someone take charge of that, but it looks like it will still be up to me to get it going. So I am now planning another session for April 15.

It was kind of a slow weekend for us, just one tutoring session, one meeting with a documentary team, one mini-orientation… it was so quiet… except when Eunkoo’s sisters visited with their children. 🙂

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iTNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee just wrapped up a fascinating feedback session with a refugee. This refugee is older than the other participants in our program, she has an adult son. Their escape story is amazing. She is now studying English for a specific reason related to her career. She is a basic level speaker who never had the courage to speak English before joining TNKR, even when she studied in hakwons.

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It has been said that on your way to heaven that you’ll have to pass through the Atlanta airport, because it seems that every connecting flight goes through there. This week, it seemed that all of TNKR passed by my desk.

Tutoring, coaching, meetings, planning meetings, checking tutor reports, calling tutors, updating the website (thank you, Maaike!), orientation sessions. What a week! I was so busy that I couldn’t post about it until now.

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We have had many ideas about ways to expand TNKR, but we weren’t ready financially and internally. At times, I felt like a man running down the street, asking others if they want to join me build an organization I was carrying on my back.

At last, we’re an official NGO, volunteers have pledged to try to raise money and they are coming up with ideas–and pledging to get them done.

We will soon be launching a new Website related to TNKR. Stay tuned!

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* 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

“If you organize a planning meeting for 100 people, but only three people show up, then you know what? You’ve got three people to work with. Get started with them, don’t focus the meeting on the 97 people who aren’t there.”

Korea Times, April 2014, “Man in the mirror, not the magnifying glass”


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Another good sign for TNKR is that a group we have worked with before would like to have another event with us. They are in town for other reasons, but met with me today to discuss another joint event. They had many questions about the way TNKR operates by truly putting refugees at the center of our activities.

Three things I really loved: 1) watched the TNKR videos 2) they had specific questions about TNKR 3) they weren’t embarrassed to pose with Mini-Me KC and his miniature co-director.

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Yesterday I didn’t leave the TNKR office after I arrived. We had several meetings and many things to do. The Christmas season is coming, but we have several events planned.


Late night meeting with an international freelance reporter and photographer about a possible newspaper article.

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Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center is

  • starting a new video project. Contact me if you have video editing skills, camera, podcasts or other skills that could help with launching a video project.
  • starting a discussion group project. TNKR tutors, contact me if you would like to lead discussion groups with refugee learners.
  • accepting requests for NK refugees to speak to their organizations, groups, schools. Contact me if you would like to invite us.
  • launching a new website for a new project. Contact me if you would like to use your website making skills.

As usual, we are launching with no budget, without months of planning. Just do it! I have worked at companies and organizations, I often wondered why it took so long to get things done. I now realize, there were two main things: 1) money. 2) someone to be accountable if the project failed.

Contact me: CJL(@)post.harvard.edu or TNKR(@)teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org



I enjoy going to English language discussion group in Seoul. It gives me a chance to talk to South Korean professionals talking about the issues of the day. There are both introverts and extroverts in these days, but some of them like to hide from the camera, or sit in the back so it is not as easy to see them. 🙂


This team is off to a great start! Different personalities and style.

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