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2017-03-25 “Hello, Konglish!” Hello, Jinhee Han!

The “steak” of Teach North Korean Refugees is our English tutoring project. The “sizzle” is when refugees in our public speaking project give public speeches. Yesterday, before a crowded room at Seoul KOTESOL, North Korean refugee Jinhee Han gave her first public speech in English. She was amazing, the crowd was really interested: She was an English teacher in North Korea before she escaped to South Korea.


Jinhee first joined TNKR in 2013, back when TNKR was “English Matching,” and still just a hobby for the co-founders. Jinhee has remained in touch, although she has been too busy with her life teaching North Korean refugees. Plus, she is embarrassed to be introduced as an English teacher from North Korea because people will have high expectations about her English. I think because of it that she has avoided talking with people about her background. Yesterday, she gave her first public speech in English, discussing her English teaching career in North Korea and also discussing English education in North Korea. The crowd was clearly moved by her speech. She still prefers to remain anonymous, but last night she let us know how much she enjoyed it, and that she is willing to do it again. She has watched TNKR and stayed in touch over the years. She said she was crying as she listened to our speeches, she could truly see the impact that TNKR has had on North Korean refugees, and she thanked the many volunteers who have given so much of their time to help NK refugees adjust. We have encouraged her over the years not to give up on studying English because of the expectations some have and that she should ignore the quick-to-judge people.

She said that she felt so encouraged seeing that so many foreigners were so interested in hearing about her experience as English teacher, she would have never believed this could happen.


Who was the hardest-working man not affiliated with the conference organizing team? TNKR Assistant Director Dave Fry! The co-directors were able to relax, think about their speeches, and provide support rather than having to lead at every moment.

Dave has the right personality to be the official TNKR Greeter!


After we wrapped up our panel, it was then photo time! We got a lot of great feedback. People were moved by Jinhee’s speech. They also loved hearing what TNKR co-director Eunkoo Lee had to say–it was also her first formal speech in English at a conference. I had to talk her into it, she is a shy lady, but she presented great insights about what refugees tell her about TNKR. In my case, I was amazed that several people told me that they came out to hear me speak, that some of them are regular readers of my Korea Times column. A few who have heard me speak say they learn something new every time, even though I am always talking about TNKR.

Some of the people we met promised they would get involved with TNKR, as a volunteer or fundraiser. One of the attendees even pledged to sell some of her artwork, and to donate the proceeds to TNKR!

Assistant Academic Adviser Youngmin Kwon is not pictured many times, that’s because he was the man behind the camera yesterday!

It was a team effort and an enjoyable time informing so many people about challenges North Korean refugees face and the role that TNKR has embraced in trying to give support to some of them.


2017-02-21 Leaving the TNKR cave to meet the Mayor of Mapo-gu

A great thing about having an office? You have a place to invite guests to.

A bad thing about having an office? You don’t want to go out to meet other people.

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2017-01-16 TNKR presentation (Asia Leadership Trek)

TNKR joined the Asia Leadership Trek during its three week tour across Asia. Members of the Trek are students at the Harvard Law School, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Medical School, Tufts Fletcher School.

Event 1:

* TNKR co-founder Casey Lartigue kicked off the event by introducing TNKR’s history and mission.

* TNKR Special Ambassador Ken Eom gave a new speech this morning about his adjustment to South Korea.

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2016-12-07 Listening

I had an interesting conversation last night with two graduate school students who are majoring in counseling.

We had a good feeling from the beginning because they had already seen the tvN special about TNKR. They already felt at home as soon as they walked in. They are including NK refugees in their research, so they wanted to talk with TNKR’s co-founders.

They got me to discuss a few things I don’t publicly discuss about TNKR.


They saw the tvN special, so they weren’t surprised when it was photo time!

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2016-12-02 TNKR–US military (“What a beautiful morning”)

This morning Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) had an event at a US military base in Suwon (Korea). It was organized by TNKR coach Matthew McGowan. He came up with the idea then he made it happen! I invite all volunteers (tutors, coaches, staff) to organize events. Most people don’t do it, they wait for others. Matthew did it, and it was WONDERFUL! As one of the refugees wrote, “It was a beautiful morning.”

TNKR has two main paths for refugees to choose.

  • Track 1 is for English study. We try to block tutors who are interested in socializing with refugees or trying to get into their personal lives. We are trying to create a safe zone for refugees to study without having tutors probe them about North Korea.
  • Track 2, on the other hand, is where it is appropriate to help refugees tell their stories. We encourage speech coaches to also set up events at which refugees can give speeches. We still ask coaches to be respectful, not to probe refugees out of their curiosity. Instead, try to help refugees get prepared for public speaking.

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