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2017-07-01 Emergency English? Hallelujah!

Years before TNKR, I was on the Young Executive Board of the Washington Scholarship Fund, we provided scholarships for low-income children in Washington, D.C.

One of the moments we all looked forwarded to was calling the families to inform them that a child had been awarded a scholarship. The responses were usually screams and shouts of “Hallelujah,” “Praise the Lord” and expletives of joy.

They couldn’t believe they had won a scholarship. Many of them would tell us that they had never won anything. They believed or hoped this would give their children the chance to go to a good school. We later converted the program from a privately funded to a publicly funded program when our lobbying led the US Congress to create the Washington DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Washington parents interested in school vouchers attend an orientation meeting at the DC Convention Center to fill out applications. Pictured, Juanda Benjamin (cq), center, gives her daughter DaQuanda, 9, a kiss as they listen to their options with other hopeful parents. This was after we converted the program from a privately funded to a publicly funded program. Photo credit: Washington Post

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2017-06-27 American high schoolers visit TNKR

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Some American high school students visiting South Korea stopped by TNKR to hear speeches from two TNKR Special Ambassadors. As co-founder of TNKR, it was another beautiful moment, seeing two speakers who came to us in 2015 blossoming the way they have.

  • One if now a graduate student, the other is an undergraduate.
  • They both have improved their English a lot.
  • They have both improved their ability to make speeches. Practicing many times and working with many tutors and coaches has definitely helped them improve.
  • And they thank us TNKR so many times for the impact that it has had on their lives. Not only do they say this when they are with us, but I have heard from others that they praise us.
  • They both even raise money for TNKR! Thank you Ken Eom and Eunhee Park.
  • The students said they learned so much. It is really a great opportunity for them to learn directly from North Korean refugees the reality of that country and the challenges that refugees have when they make it to South Korea.
  • TNKR will continue making a difference in the lives of refugees and volunteers who join us.

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2017-06-18 Noblish speech #3

Winston Churchill supposedly said: “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” That is definitely true with me.

I was one of the featured speakers at a Noblish event. The start-up organization was founded by Sunny Eunhwa Kim. Sunny is an energetic and lovely lady, she is so busy that she makes me feel like I am sitting at my desk all of the time. Roger Fusselman was the other featured speaker, he gave a great talk about creativity. He is a skilled speaker, so I was able to give the audience advice about making great presentations based on his.

My topic was “Making Effective English Presentations.” Of course, I also talked about TNKR.

Two of the South Koreans at the event pledged to make small donations to TNKR. Another lady called me an angel, which of course I disputed.

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2017-06-15 TV podcast, TNKR presentation

Yesterday began with TNKR co-founder Casey Lartigue being interviewed for a new TV podcast.

In the afternoon, two TNKR refugees gave speeches to a group of high school students visiting from the USA.

And around all of that, tutoring sessions for refugees, Eunkoo Lee having feedback sessions with refugees to get an understanding about their experience in TNKR.

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2017-06-12 Harvard Global Networking Night

Brag, brag, brag, that’s what people were doing at last night’s Harvard Global Networking Night. It was great, we were able to tell some influential people about (TNKR) Teach North Korean Refugees. Best of all, some of them were already familiar with TNKR!

TNKR co-directors took a break from work to join Harvard Global Networking Night. It is great to join networking events where people are expected to talk about their activities. So I shamelessly introduced TNKR! I often encounter people who are afraid that others are bragging or having a good time, so it is was fun meeting with people who want to hear about what others are doing and also want to inform you about what they are doing.

It was delightful when we met some influential people who said they were already aware of our important activities.

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2017-05-18 TNKR presentation to Australian students

Thursday was one of those days we could really appreciate how much TNKR has grown. With very little money, we have created an NGO that provides practical learning opportunities for refugees and has gained respected internationally.

We have had more than 570 volunteer tutors, but just a handful have committed to us long-term. Of the 270 refugees who have joined us, the same is true, just a handful have stuck to us. Having people around us has taken a lot of pressure off us. And now a new thing is happening–we are no longer at the center of every activity.

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TNKR presentation to Australian students

Two TNKR Ambassadors and TNKR co-founders Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue spoke to a group of MBA students visiting from Australia. Here’s our group photo after the session.

Some venues have standing room only. Ours included sitting on the floor and standing. My math isn’t great, but 20 chairs, 24 visitors, 6 volunteers=not everyone will get a chair.

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TNKR Special Ambassador Cherie Yang was the winner of our fifth English speech contest, so now expectations are higher every time she speaks. And she meets the challenge!

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Eunhee has gone from being anonymous to a regular speaker with great confidence.

The students had many thoughtful questions and said they learned a lot.

 

We had a full house!

TV stations often have a “Green room” where guests wait for their chance to go on the show. The TNKR green room is a study/storage/waiting room.

Support TNKR

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Standing with TNKR

Over the past few years, we have had almost 600 volunteer tutors and coaches volunteer with TNKR. An important thing for us is having volunteers commit to us long-term. Last year Youngmin Kwon joined us as a full-time volunteer, taking on various roles (assistant academic adviser, project manager of the Bring My Father Home project, translator, office manager). More recently, Dave Fry has joined us as Assistant Director of Publicity and Professor Tony Docan-Morgan has joined TNKR as a Senior Fellow of Communication and Advocacy. The Professor evaluates speeches by TNKR ambassadors and speakers and gives them specific feedback. He has been teaching communications for 15 years, he is so good that I have been recruiting him to become my speech coach. He has conducted three 1:1 feedback session for refugees who participated in our speech contest in February. We want the speech contest to be a learning opportunity in addition to the other benefits.

The Professor going line by line with Cherie Yang over her prize-winning speech.

Feedback session 2 with another refugee who has competed in TNKR speech contests. After the session, he declared, “I learned so much, I think I can win next time!”

Speech feedback session 3: She said aspects of public speaking that she had never considered, that she will be able to use the techniques in her classes. She doesn’t show her face, but she said she has gained confidence in giving a public speech even though her English isn’t that strong.

 

TNKR discussion about our upcoming brainstorming session. Anna Martinson (seated) and Dave Fry (arms folded) will be leading the session. Spencer has joined TNKR as a fundraising intern and Chansook is a South Korean fan of TNKR who dropped by to volunteer for a few hours.

 

TNKR Assistant Director Dave Fry is a tutor, fundraiser, donor, motivator and office comedian who is helping us develop long-term strategy.

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One of the important developments about TNKR is that refugees in the program have been standing by our side. The ultimate test of a program is: Do the people who are benefiting from the program have a connection to what you are doing? Are they willing to stand by your side?

TNKR Special Ambassador Cherie Yang has taken on a leadership role within TNKR. She is always ready to help, even shooting a promotional video for TNKR.

Joseph is one of the first refugees I met years ago. He brings us gifts and could eventually partner with us on a business project.

Support my fundraiser for TNKR

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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