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2018-01-02 ‘Will my tutors quit?’

TNKR co-founder and National Director Eunkoo Lee received a phone call from a refugee who joined us recently. Her main comments and questions for Eunkoo:

Are my teachers okay even though I am an ABC level English speaker? They must be having a tough time dealing with me. So they might want to quit?

I was determined to try English only, but when I met my teachers, I guessed that some of them might be willing to use Korean because of my low level. But none of them have used it and one told me that it is against TNKR policy. I think this shows that TNKR teachers understand how refugees need to study English.

I am so happy to continue studying, but I am worried that my teachers will be bored helping a student like me who is so basic at English.

In addition to that student:

  • Eunkoo had three face-to-face interviews with refugees eager to join TNKR.
  • A refugee who is really eager called to ask if he can join the next Matching session. He recently joined us and wants to study more.
  • A refugee who has been studying in TNKR consistently since joining in early 2016 called to ask if she can rejoin soon.
  • A refugee who did not have a good experience in the past now sent a long message saying that she can now understand our approach. At that time (2014 or 2015), she thought there was a problem that we did not have a set curriculum that students had to follow. But she has heard from other refugees about the way the teachers adjust to the students, and she can see that she wasted her opportunity to study with us because she was waiting to be led by the teachers.
  • Plus many nice notes and messages from refugees in TNKR over the holidays and today.

When we have so much activity around us, of refugees reaching out to us, I think about those “experts” who “know” that refugees are passive and need to be led.


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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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2017-08-26 TNKR’s 6th English Speech Contest, “A Woman is a Flower: The Lives of North Korean Women.”

So many great stories, wonderful people, fantastic feelings at yesterday’s 6th TNKR English speech contest.

The theme of the contest: “A Woman is a Flower: The Lives of North Korean Women.”

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Random moments and observations from the contest:

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2017-07-22 TNKR 61st Matching session


Student 1:
I am a student who attended the TNKR Matching Session on July 22, 2017.
I arrived at 1:00 pm.
It was very apparent that Mr. Casey, Ms. Eunkoo, and Youngmin teacher were very busy preparing for the session.
As the session began, the 12 volunteer tutors introduced themselves one by one. All of them had such warm smiles on their faces, and I felt honored to be given the opportunity to study with them as a North Korean refugee. Words cannot adequately convey how happy I felt to see so many volunteer tutors willing to help us improve our English.
It also dawned on me how much the international community was focusing on the situation surrounding the Korean peninsula, particularly in North Korea.
It was also fascinating to see all the students introducing themselves one by one and being given the power to choose their own tutors. It was a very special system unheard of in other organizations.
As a student, I was particularly thankful for the strict policy of only using English and banning the use of Korean in classes. I initially planned to choose 2 tutors, but I ended up choosing 4 tutors.
Two students even chose 5 tutors each.
I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to all the tutors from various countries (USA, UK, New Zealand, etc.) for caring so much about us despite their busy professional schedules.
And I would like to sincerely thank TNKR for shining a light of hope to all the North Korean refugee students.
I also feel hopeful that all of this English support, big and small, will have a monumental impact on the Unified Korea in the future.
Hurrah to the Great Unified Republic of Korea! Glory to our elders from the United States of America!

Translated by: Youngmin Kwon

Edited by: Anna Martinson


TNKR began in March 2013 with co-founders Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue matching a few North Korean refugees with volunteer tutors at a small “English Matching” session. Yesterday TNKR held its 61st Language Matching session. We have now matched almost 300 refugees with more than 600 tutors and coaches. We’ve designed sessions so that that tutors teach at least 2 refugees at least twice a month. That means that refugees can have a few tutors but volunteers won’t be overburdened. The result is that in a typical session, refugees select at least three tutors each and volunteers can have two refugees each. Yesterday worked out so that tutors accepted 2.5 refugees each and refugees hauled away 4.3 tutors each.

  • 12 tutors
  • 7 refugees

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2015-07-21 She spoke to me

I joined a TNKR class yesterday with a refugee who has gone from putting her head on her desk so she could avoid interacting with me to now initiating a conversation with me.

One of the key main things we are hearing from refugees is that they gain confidence from talking with TNKR tutors 1 to 1. In classroom situations they get lost in the shuffle, they lack the confidence to try to speak.

She and Christine Kim are now studying together twice a week.

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2017-07-19 Something is going on…

  • Many refugees have been applying for TNKR.
  • Major media (CNN, the Guardian) are finding me again.
  • Volunteers are contacting us, asking how they can help.

Something is going on…


Several meetings today in three different locations across Seoul.

I started the day participating in a Roundtable discussion at the Korea Times office near Seoul Station.


I then was interviewed by the Guardian. I usually like to do such interviews while I am sitting at my desk. But in this case, I did the interview in a taxi on the way to our shared office with Save NK. 

My quote has been featured by EuroNews.

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TNKR in the UK

At the request of refugees in the United Kingdom, Teach North Korean Refugees has initiated two projects.

  • Connect refugees with volunteer tutors. The refugees are located in New Malden, so we are seeking tutors who can commit to going there or meeting them at location points convenient to New Malden, such as Waterloo, which is the first train stop in London. We will start with the same expectations we use in Seoul: Meet each refugee at least twice a month for a minimum of three months.
  • English speech contest: So far TNKR has held six contests in Seoul. Contest number seven will be in London, to raise awareness about the challenges that refugees in the U.K. face

Sign up here to be a tutor.


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Happy Birthday, Dave Fry!

Happy birthday to TNKR Assistant Director Dave Fry! From our first discussion it was clear that he was not going to be drive-by volunteer just dropping in.

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2017-07-02 TNKR Matching: “When can I start?”

TNKR called an Emergency Matching session because we were getting so many requests from refugees. We decided to try to squeeze in another session before our regularly scheduled July 15 Orientation/July 22 Matching session. On such short notice, would we be able to recruit enough tutors?

Yes! Over the weekend, we had 2 orientations with refugees, 1 with tutors, an Open House with volunteers, and a fantastic Language Matching session yesterday. Below are some of my notes.

Participants at TNKR’s 60th Language Matching session:
6 refugees, 10 tutors.

When did refugees arrive in South Korea?
2008 (1)
2009 (1)
2013 (2)
2015 (2)

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2017-07-02 English Emergencies

I arrived at the TNKR office early this Sunday morning. The reasons?
* Two study sessions starting at 11 a.m.
* Skype call at 11:30 am.
* Waiting for refugees who may arrive early for the matching session.
* Orientation by TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee for a student who couldn’t make it yesterday.
* Another study session at 1 pm.
* Matching session from 2 pm.
Thankfully I arrived even earlier than I had originally planned. As I was starting to type this post, one student arrived at 10:50 a.m.! Yes, for a 2 pm session, she arrived more than 3 hours in advance. This beats the previous record of 11:30 a.m. Some fans wait in line to buy new tennis shoes or video games. Refugees in TNKR show up hours early so they will have the chance to choose tutors.
I think it was more than two years ago that TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee suggested that students choose based on when they arrive, and since then we have eliminated the problem of students showing up late. The issue now is that we must arrive early enough to meet students as they are arriving.
Eunkoo admits that she once thought that refugees were passive, but that if a program is designed properly, then even people who seemed to be passive can be actively engaged. We have a waiting list of 70 refugees eager to join TNKR, which is why we had an emergency orientation and will have an Emergency Matching session later today.