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2017-05-25 In-house tutoring: 2+2=4

The last two days we have been visited by two ladies who had a big impact on TNKR. In early 2015, I received an email from a young lady in the USA who wanted to be a summer intern with TNKR.

TNKR wasn’t even an official organization at that point, we were operating out of the now-defunct Freedom Factory Co. I made sure to downplay her expectations, to let her know just how humble we were, I was sure there were bigger and more established organizations that could provide her with a quality experience.

But no, she wanted to join us. She was so polite, calling “Mr. Lartigue,” and studying TNKR to find her role. She even read my rants in the Korea Times.

Christine Kim was our first intern, and she set a very high standard. Translator, editor, tutor, administration, she did it all without ever complaining even though she was a teenager, and teenagers are experts at complaining at and about old folks. She certainly had her opinions and would add them to the conversation.

Near the end of her internship, I received a Facebook message from a North Korean refugee who had heard about our program. But she had realized that she had a wait a long time before she could start studying. So she appealed directly to me. I had dinner with her and Christine, to get an understanding of the refugee’s needs. During the conversation, I suddenly realized that 2+2=4. Christine was tutoring refugees in the Freedom Factory office. We were developing a waiting list of refugees. Why not have tutors help refugees on the waiting list? That way, they could get English while they waited to join a Matching session. In-house tutoring was born just as Christine was leaving.

We continued in-house tutoring, first with teaching machine Grace Lee, then we put aside some cash to rent a separate office within the Bitcoin Center so we would have a place for refugees to visit as an introduction to TNKR.


Christine is in town for a short visit, she came to visit us. The student who helped to inspire in-house tutoring happened to visit TNKR for a feedback session with TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee.



Earlier today we had another refugee join in-house tutoring for the first time. She loved it! She said it was her first time to speak English with a foreigner. She had many concerns in advance about doing it. But once the class with Paul Evans started, she forgot all of her concerns and enjoyed it!


We still have TNKR tutoring from our Matching program! The study duo of Cherie Yang and Dave Fry met at the office today. They are two of my favorite people in the whole world. Cherie is one of TNKR’s Special Ambassadors, Dave is Assistant Director. Dave is not a professional teacher, but he is smart. At first, he worried about how he would teach three different refugees, but he found the way: Use his brain. He listened closely and observed, then figured out how to focus on each refugee. And Cherie is the same way with her tutors. She figures out their particular strengths, then connects that to what she wants to study.

One of our tutors, Yoojin Kim, dropped by the office to give me feedback about TNKR. It was great, gave me an opportunity to reflect on things. She has joined two different matching sessions, tutored three different studies, so she has had enough time to think about the TNKR project

Support TNKR.


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TNKR Matching 57: “TNKR are superheroes”

Teach North Korean Refugees began in 2013 as a hobby for its founders Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue. They were matching North Korean refugees with volunteer tutors willing to help them practice English. From its humble beginnings, TNKR has now had about 280 refugees study with more than 580 volunteers. It has been featured in both domestic and international media. Volunteers from around the world seek it out.

Yesterday 9 refugees, 14 volunteer tutors, and 4 volunteer staff members squeezed into the largest room at TNKR’s office for the organization’s 57th Language Matching session. There were so many poignant, fun, and inspirational moments.

First, the data:


9 refugees selected an average of 3.1 tutors.

14 tutors were selected by an average of 2 refugees each.

It means that refugees have a variety of tutors and the tutors are not burdened too much. So our formula of having refugees choose as many tutors as possible while asking the tutors to accept at 2 refugees each is working out quite well.

One refugee who is quite eager and has a lot of free time chose 6 tutors. At the orientation on Saturday, she had said she would like to have 5. Then she increased that to six.

One refugee chose four.

Four chose 3 tutors each.

Three selected 2 tutors each.


Of the 14 tutors:

9.5 from the USA
2.5 from South Korea
1 from Canada
1 from England


Three tutors are returnees, including one who has been with TNKR since December 2015. Two of them were previously tutors, one was a coach.

Their main comments after the end of the session:

  • Felt like the bachelor TV show.
  • That was intense.
  • It was a little intense, now I’m ready to do my job.
  • I was impressed by how much English they already know.
  • They are empowered to make decisions, that is a great thing.
  • It was definitely nerve-wracking.
  • This has all been super informative, I’m feeling pretty happy.
  • I’m happy and honored, and impressed this is so student-centered.
  • I will put all of my effort into this.
  • It was nerve-wracking, I felt like I was back in gym class when sides gets chosen.
  • It was touching, I’m pumped to get started.


Why are the tutors joining us?

  • I wanted to help NK refugees. TNKR is perfect for that.
  • I did research on refugees in the past.
  • I love to give back.
  • I want to help, I’ve been a tutor in TNKR before.
  • I attended TNKR’s last speech contest, the stories were amazing. After that, I wanted to join as a volunteer.
  • I tutored refugees before and I love languages, so this is a great opportunity to combine both.
  • I tutored refugees back when I was in the USA, I would like to start my own school helping refugees.
  • I don’t have a reason not to join. This is better than staying at home eating cereal.
  • I saw a video featuring Yeonmi Park, I then learned that she had studied in this organization.
  • My professor in my university in the USA recommended this program to me.
  • I am very interested in the NK situation.
  • I have family members who escaped from North Korea during the Korean war.
  • I have tutored refugees from other countries.
  • I love Korean culture.

Next, I will add some information about refugees at the session.

Support TNKR

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[May 16, 2017] (TNKR) In-house Tutoring journal by Youngmin Kwon

[May 16, 2017] (TNKR) Teach North Korean Refugees In-house Tutoring

Youngmin Kwon, TNKR Assistant Academic Adviser, wrote: Had a great but challenging tutoring session with one of my new students! Her English level is still very basic, so I had to remain patient as she struggled to understand one sentence / expression / vocabulary after another. (* We are not allowed to use Korean. ^^)

As someone who did not join TNKR as a tutor, I am constantly amazed by how fulfilling each of these sessions can be. I have spoken out in support of the human rights of North Korean refugees before, but it was only after joining TNKR that I was able to form such close, personal, and direct bonds with my North Korean brothers and sisters. I cannot help all of them, but hopefully I am adding some real value to my students’ ongoing journey to find freedom and empowerment.

* Please consider donating!

#TNKR #Volunteering #WithRefugees

Tribute from Eben Appleton, TNKR Outreach Coordinator:

Youngmin, from one who rarely writes tributes, I must write one to you. First of all, I have always been aware of your dedication to Human Rights issues, particularly when it addresses the NK refugees. I have watched your dedication to the Freedom of Choice offered by you and the TNKR staff. Your patience in teaching does not surprise me. I realize you speak perfect English & perfect Korean. And I particularly appreciate the help you have given me with “automatic translations”. This feat is even more difficult than teaching English. I know that you are greatly appreciated by all, particularly by me.

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2017-05-13 “Hello Konglish!” TNKR at KOTESOL

TNKR presented “Hello Konglish!” at the National KOTESOL conference. TNKR International Director Casey Lartigue introduced the organization’s main activities, TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee discussed her findings based on feedback sessions with refugees, refugee Jinhee Han discussed her experience as an English teacher in North Korea.

We also had an information table. We were delighted that Leonie Overbeek stopped by our table, she has donated art work to TNKR.


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2017-05-14 “A Woman is a Flower” TNKR Global Leadership Forum 2

TNKR held its second Global Leadership Forum on Sunday May 14, featuring speakers discussing the lives of North Korean women. The event was co-sponsored by the Working Group on North Korean Women.

Lee So-yeon kicked off the forum by discussing the brutality that she and other North Korean women suffered in the military, such as being raped by military leaders. It was another reminder about a brutal regime that does not respect the rights of individuals.

Eunsun Kim, author of A Thousand Miles to Freedom, then discussed her escape from North Korea. Many of the attendees began crying when she discussed the conversations she had with her mother when they thought they might starve to death.

Lee Juseong, author of Sunhee, wrapped up the forum by discussing specific statistics related to North Korean women and calling on the South Korean government to do more to rescue North Korean refugee women from China.

TNKR Speech Fellow Tony Docan-Morgan kicked off the event, TNKR co-directors Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue briefly introduced TNKR, then after the speakers and Q&A, TNKR Assistant Director Dave Fry issued a call to action.

The room fit about 60, and we had about 70 or so in attendance, with a few latecomers having to stand.







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2017-05-04 New Volunteers, New Projects

Jenny stopped by the office to give us feedback about a new project idea. It is always delightful seeing us, she first joined TNKR in 2015 and comes back to us sometimes.

This was unexpected! One of the refugees we recently met in the UK came to South Korea on a short visit. We had a feedback session with her to learn about her education needs. Here’s my Korea Times column about our trip to the UK.

She couldn’t stop laughing when I said I wanted to take a photo with her. Then when she realized how I was going to shield her face, yes, that’s her laughing as we take a photo.

Here are some college students who want to volunteer to help us with office management.

Jeeyeon has been volunteering with TNKR since August 2016. She was in this CSR video done for TNKR by one of our South Korean volunteers. you can see her from the 3:30 minute mark.

These college students would also like to volunteer in the office.

Expert volunteers! Anna and Spencer are both joining to help us with fundraising and outreach!

TNKR  Assistant Director Dave Fry tutoring TNKR Special Ambassador Cherie Yang.

One of the refugees in TNKR was shocked to see my name in yesterday’s Korea Times as she was reading it. She sent this screen-shot.

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Random thoughts, rainy Friday morning

Some random TNKR stuff this Friday morning:
* Who can spit in the face of someone who is smiling? That’s an old Korean saying. This morning, a refugee who recently joined our program was late for her class, again. I was going to read her the Riot Act, but she had such a big smile on her face, greeted me with such a happy “Good morning!!!” that even the grumpy TNKR co-director laughed, decided to save the lecture for another day.
* Volunteer doesn’t have to mean low quality: We have had 50 people apply to join TNKR since March 11. That’s even though we have raised our expectations for volunteers. I’m happy to report that I have failed, once again, to destroy TNKR!
* Big Day Tomorrow: I emailed all of the applicants accepted for tomorrow’s orientation for Track 2. I hope others will join the Open House, but the Orientation is invitation-only for those who have already fulfilled all of the items on the application checklist.
* Reality: Some people whine that I mention TNKR’s pathetic budget too often, but I have learned when I mention it that we get some donations, when I don’t mention it, we don’t get any donations. So what should I do? Give in to the whiners?
* Resumes: TNKR is volunteer, so perhaps applicants don’t take it seriously. But you would not believe how many resumes I receive with the title “Resume” or “TNKR resume.” What ends up happening is that the resumes get labeled “Resume (1)” and “Resume (2).” If your application has ever gotten rejected by HR or managers at companies, sometimes it is because of the screening process. As one executive VP told me years ago, “If people don’t use common sense when applying for a job, they won’t use it after they get hired, either.”
* All alone: Eunkoo Lee, Youngmin Kwon, Dave Fry and Tony Docan-Morgan are all out of the office today. I’m the only authorized staff member here today. So everyone messaging me should understand that I might be slower than usual in responding.
* Be careful what you ask for: I sent out a reminder to tutors a few days ago to send in their late reports, so it has been raining reports on my head ever since then! Sometimes I think I would be better off just turning TNKR into a hiking club. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with so many reports and other administrative tasks. It is now the end of the month, so I will be going through all of the reports (more than 200 again) from this month.
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2017-03-24 Be Nice to Your Favorite NGO

Meeting #1: South Korean professional visiting from Hong Kong. He wanted to find ways he could help from Hong Kong.

Meeting #2: Feedback session with a North Korean refugee who arrived in South Korea in December 2015 and joined our program December 2016 after waiting for a few months.

I imagine that some of my peers who are involved in advocacy, abstract or analytical work about North Korea rarely or never have NK refugees seeking them out to thank them. Some of their work may be valuable, but it isn’t the type of work that leads to the people who benefit from what they are doing to praise them.

Read more

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2017-03-07 “I have responsibility in TNKR”

One key principle for TNKR: Students in the program must take charge. We put the burden on them to choose their tutors, to choose an appropriate number, to negotiate and book appointments with them, to come to class prepared.

It is a wonderful moment when a refugee admits he or she struggled with that initially, but now loves it! The challenge is convincing tutors to let the refugees stumble through English until they find their way, rather than translating or trying to baby them.

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2017-02-28 Don’t Even Think About… Taking My Photo

TNKR volunteer tutor Arrooj Nawaz was teaching her student the phrase “Don’t even think about…”

As usual, they showed the enthusiasm of military draftees when I said it was photo time. So I taught the student the phrase: “Don’t even think about taking my photo.” I think such ‘Live English” helps students remember key phrases. 🙂

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