Casey Lartigue, co-founder of TNKR (standing on the left), and Lee Eunkoo, (standing on the right), pose along with TNKR volunteers. Photo courtesy of = TNKR FACEBOOK

Every Friday, News Scene reports on news about North Korea. There is a Korean NGO that helps refugees share their stories and voice their opinions in society. TNKR is the only English-language educational organization helping North Korean refugees that was founded by an American. Reporter Jang, Yang-hee reported.

Michael Downey, an American man who has lived in Korea for 18 years, first learned about TNKR in 2017.

[Interview: Michael Downey] “On the world scene today, everybody is talking about, writing about, and pontificating about North Korea. Although .. “
“Many people are interested in North Korea, talking and writing about it, but few people are doing anything in a practical way. However, TNKR was different and I wanted to join.”

Downey said he was inspired by the group’s approach of having refugees speak their voices.

Downey, who is a published author, is passionate about wanting to open a TNKR branch where he lives.

Casey Lartigue, co-founder of TNKR, said that Mr. Downey was a bit skeptical initially, but has become a big fan and active participant who inspires others.

Mr. Downey has always been interested in education.

TNKR 영어튜터이자 기금모금 기획자인 마이클 다우니 씨가 탈북자 작가 장진성 씨와 포즈를 취하고 있다.

[Interview: Michael Downey] “The North Korean students that I’ve been tutored and coached have always been bright, enthusiastic learners, and always grateful for my ..”

He not only teaches English for free to students in TNKR, but he also skips a meal every day, then donates the money to TNKR every Friday morning.

Aaron Peterson, a native of Oregon, recently joined TNKR as a tutor. He has been involved with other North Korea related organizations and works as an elementary school teacher in Seoul.

Mr. Petersen believed that his expertise would help refugees because he knew English was a must in Korean society.

[Recording: Aaron Peterson] “When I learned that North Korean refugees needed to learn English in order to function in South Korean society and to ..”

Mr. Peterson thinks it is very rewarding to see people who are very passionate about studying English and to teach grateful students who are highly motivated. The language is different and sometimes misunderstood, but the process also encourages students’ patience in studying English.
Donna Kimelman, an American woman from Brooklyn, New York, has taught English at government agencies throughout Korea and Germany. She has been teaching about modern slavery for 20 years.

Donna is a volunteer tutor with TNKR for North Korean refugees. She says it was surprising listening to their stories at TNKR events.
[Recorded by Donna Kimmel] “When I found TNKR I was excited about a way to be involved … “

Janice Kim started as a volunteer tutor for the group and is now the Academic Coordinator. She was interested in helping refugees because of her experiences in a Korean immigrant family.

[Janice Kim] “My mother’s first experience settling in the USA with very little English ability. I vividly remember the struggles she faced with .. ”

She said she was angry at her mother’s inability to speak English and that this experience made her feel guilty until she became an adult.

Janice has taken on the role of managing volunteer tutors within TNKR.

Teach North Korean Refugees, or TNKR, was founded in 2013 by Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee. More than 800 volunteers have taught English to refugees. About 60-70% of the volunteers are Americans. Last month, 27 Americans applied to join TNKR. Twenty-seven Americans applied to join TNKR last month.

Many of the volunteers work in Korea as English teachers and many others are affiliated with non-profit organizations or have jobs outside of English teaching.

According to Casey Lartigue, many of the teachers who read about North Korea are looking for a practical way to get involved. They get to learn about North Korean refugees through this experience. There are about 400 North Korean refugees who have studied one-to-one with English tutors in TNKR. For example, Park Yeon-mi, a North Korean human rights activist in the United States, studied with tutors one-to-one for eight months during 2014.

In the United States, Ms. Park has been giving speeches in English the last three years to businesses and organizations about the North Korean human rights situation.

One of the reasons why this organization has been able to achieve results is that students and volunteers can focus on English study.

Janice Kim, Academic Coordinator, said that it is not easy to keep relationships as good as one-on-one between students and volunteers, and that managing these relationships is one of her roles.

 [Interview: Kim Jen] “I’ve seen this happen a number of times where I have to ask for leave the program for overstepping those boundaries ..”

The organization has strict rules against dating or socializing.

TNKR’s study sessions are determined by the needs of the refugees. Test preparation, speaking, traveling, employment, etc., are topics tutors need to be prepared to help refugees with. The student-centered approach provides students with a choice and fills their academic needs directly.

Among human rights and refugee support organizations in Korea, TNKR is the only organization established by an American. Casey Lartigue, a graduate of Harvard University, says TNKR is growing economically and culturally as an English-language institution for refugees.

Lartigue is looking forward to 2019.

The ‘Volunteer Leadership Academy, launched last year, will provide opportunities for volunteers to get more deeply involved with building the organization; the organization will eventually help refugees with education and employment opportunities; and to upgrade the organization’s speech contests into an international event.

VOA News

(This is a quick translation and edit, to be used for general understanding)

Support TNKR’s 2019 Matching Donation Challenge

Here’s the original link at VOA, with audio.

[뉴스풍경] 탈북민들 목소리 찾아주는 미국인들

케이시 라티그 TNKR(왼쪽에 서 있는 남성) 공동대표, 한국 여성 이은구 대표, 그리고 TNKR 자원봉사자들이 카메라를 향해 포즈를 취하고 있다. 사진제공=TNKR FACEBOOK

케이시 라티그 TNKR(왼쪽에 서 있는 남성) 공동대표, 한국 여성 이은구 대표, 그리고 TNKR 자원봉사자들이 카메라를 향해 포즈를 취하고 있다. 사진제공=TNKR FACEBOOK

매주 금요일 북한 관련 화제성 소식을 전해 드리는 `뉴스 풍경’입니다. 탈북민들이 자신의 이야기를 나누고 사회에서 목소리를 낼 수 있도록 돕는 한국의 민간단체가 있습니다. 탈북민정착을 돕는 단체들 가운데 유일하게 미국인이 설립한 영어교육단체 TNKR입니다. 장양희 기자가 취재했습니다.

올해로 18년째 한국에 거주하고 있는 미국인 남성 마이클 다우니 씨.

다우니 씨가 TNKR을 만난 지난 2017년, 당시 다우니 씨의 생각은 이랬습니다.

[녹취:마이클 다우니] “On the world scene today, everybody is talking about, writing about, and pontificating about North Korea. Although ..”

북한에 대해 말하고 글을 쓰는 등 관심은 많지만 무엇이든 행동하는 사람은 적다는 것이었습니다.

그러나 이 단체는 달랐고 자신도 동참하고 싶었습니다.

다우니 씨는 이 단체가 탈북민들이 당당하게 목소리를 내도록 돕자는 취지로 설립됐다는 점이 영감을 줬다고 말했습니다.

현재 작가로 활동하고 있는 다우니 씨는 자신이 거주하는 지역에 이 단체 지부를 열고 싶어할 만큼 열정적입니다.

케이시 라티그 TNKR 공동대표는 활동 초기에는 회의적인 모습을 보이기도 했던 다우니 씨가 지금은 단체에서 사람들에게 큰 영향력을 끼치고 있다고 말했습니다.

다우니 씨는 10대에서 30대에 이르는 탈북민들의 학업에 대한 열정에서 늘 영감을 얻고 있습니다.

TNKR 영어튜터이자 기금모금 기획자인 마이클 다우니 씨가 탈북자 작가 장진성 씨와 포즈를 취하고 있다.
TNKR 영어튜터이자 기금모금 기획자인 마이클 다우니 씨가 탈북자 작가 장진성 씨와 포즈를 취하고 있다.

[녹취:마이클 다우니]”The North Korean students that I’ve tutored and coached have all been bright, enthusiastic learners, and always grateful for my..”

다우니 씨는 자신이 무료로 영어를 가르칠 뿐 아니라 하루 한끼 식사를 거르고 매주 모은 돈을 이 단체에 기부하고 있습니다.

오레건 주 출신인 애론 피터슨 씨가 탈북민들의 영어교사가 된 건 최근의 일입니다.

그동안 다른 기관이나 단체에서 북한 관련 활동을 했던 그는 서울에서 초등학교 교사로 일하고 있습니다.

피터슨 씨는 한국사회에서 영어는 필수라는 것을 알기 때문에 탈북민들에게 자신의 전문성이 도움이 될 거라고 판단했습니다.

[녹취:애론 피터슨 ]” When I learned that North Korean refugees needed to learn English in order to function in South Korean society and to..”

피터슨 씨는 영어 공부에 매우 열심인 탈북민들을 보는 것, 그리고 그들의 발전을 지켜보는 것이 무척 즐겁고, 늘 고맙게 여기는 사람들을 가르치는 보람이 크다고 생각합니다.

서로의 언어가 달라 때로는 오해도 있지만 그런 과정도 학생들의 영어 공부에 대한 인내심을 키워준다고 말합니다.

뉴욕 브루클린 출신인 미국인 여성 도나 키멜만 씨는 한국과 독일을 두루 거치며 정부기관에서 영어를 가르쳐왔습니다.

21세기 현대판 노예에 대해 오랫동안 가르쳐왔고 난민 문제도 다루는 활동이 도나 씨가 이 단체에 참여하게 된 동기가 됐습니다.

도나 씨는 탈북민들에게 영어를 가르치며 이들이 겪은 이야기를 듣고 있다며, 매우 놀라운 일이라고 말했습니다.

[녹취:도나 키멜만] “When I found TNKR I was excited about a way to be more involved…”

이 단체의 자원봉사자로 시작했다가 지금은 학생들과 영어교사들 간의 학업관리를 담당하는 제니스 김 씨.

제니스 씨는 미국 캘리포니아에서 나고 자란 한인 2세로 이민자 가정에서 겪은 경험 때문에 난민 영어교육에 발을 들여놓게 됐습니다.

[녹취:제니스 김] “My mother’s first experience settling in the USA with very little English ability. I vividly remember the struggles she faced with..”

어머니가 영어를 하지 못하는 모습에 화가났고, 이 경험은 어른이 될 때까지 어머니에 대한 죄스러움을 갖게 했다는 설명인데요, 제니스 씨는 이 단체를 안 직후 곧바로 자신이 할 일임을 알았다고 말했습니다.

제니스 씨는 이 단체에서 탈북민 영어교육 전문가로 일하면서 원어민 자원봉사자들을 돕고 있습니다.

‘탈북난민들을 가르치자’는 의미인 TNKR은 2013년에 설립된 이 단체에서 자원봉사자로 활동한 영어교사는 총 800여명. 이 중 60-70%는 미국인입니다.

지난해 12월 자원한 40여명의 봉사자들 가운데 27명이 미국인이었습니다.

한국에서 영어교사로 일하며 학생들을 가르치는 봉사자가 많은데요, 이들은 다른 봉사자들에게 긍정적인 영향력을 끼치고 있습니다.

그 밖에 민간단체에 소속돼 있거나 전문직에 종사하는 사람들도 많습니다.

케이시 라티그 대표에 따르면 영어교사로 봉사하는 이들은 다양한 과정을 겪지만 북한 관련 기사를 읽고 영상을 봐도 정서적인 한계에 부딫히고, 단체를 알게 되면서 북한주민에 대해 이해의 폭이 커집니다.

TNKR의 1대1영어교육을 체험한 탈북민은 400여명인데요, 대표적으로 미국에서 북한인권 운동가로 활동하는 박연미 씨는 8개월 간 1대1교육을 받았습니다.

박 씨는 미국에서 지난 3년 간 기업과 단체를 상대로 원어민 수준의 영어로 북한인권 상황을 알리고 있습니다.

이 단체가 성과를 낼 수 있었던 중요한 이유 중 하나는 학생과 자원봉사자들이 영어공부에만 집중할 수 있는 환경입니다.

제니스 김 코디네이터는 학생들과 봉사자들 간의 1대1 수업이 이뤄지는 만큼 관계가 선을 넘지 않도록 유지하는 것이 쉬운 일이 아니라며, 이것을 관리하는 것이 자신의 역할 중 하나라고 설명했습니다.

[녹취:제니스 김] “I’ve seen this happen a number of times where I had to ask tutors to leave the program for overstepping those boundaries..”

교사와 학생의 선을 넘어 친구나 연애 상대를 찾는 사람들은 단체 프로그램 참여가 불가능하다는 설명입니다.

이 단체는 탈북민들의 요구에 따라 수업 내용을 결정합니다. 시험준비, 연설, 여행, 취업 등 본인이 요구하고 교사도 선택합니다.

학생 중심 접근방식으로 학생들에게 선택의 기회를 제공하고 이들의 학업욕구를 채워주는 것은 교육의 과정과 결과에 직결됩니다.

한국내 대북인권단체, 탈북민 지원단체 중 미국인이 설립한 유일한 단체인 TNKR.

미국 명문 하버드대학교를 졸업한 케이시 라티그 대표는 TNKR이 탈북민 영어교육 기관으로서 경제적, 문화적으로 성장하고 있다고 말합니다.

라티그 대표는 2019년 한 해 달성하기로 한 목표에 고무돼 있습니다.

지난해 출범한 ‘자원봉사자 리더십 학술 프로그램’을 통해 교사들에게 강한 동기를 심어주고 역량을 강화하는 것, 영어교육의 질적 향상으로 탈북민들의 교육과 취업을 돕는 것, 그리고 올해 8월 국제적인 행사로 열리게 될 영어말하기 대회를 계획하고 있습니다.

VOA 뉴스 장양희 입니다.

So you wanna volunteer with TNKR!

Great choice, but there are some things you need to know to reach your goal. TNKR has developed its own culture and process, and we are always seeking volunteers who want to help us to continue to develop so we can offer great education opportunities for North Korean refugees.

Here’s our process for applying!

  1. Application
  2. Customized resume
  3. State-level ID.
  4. Signed Waiver
  5. Follow-up!

Here it is, step-by-step, and will be updated as necessary.

  1. Application

Here are the most important links, you can apply as a volunteer tutor, coach, or join TNKR’s Volunteer Leadership Academy.

Why why why? Some people naturally want to know why they need to submit an application. Isn’t it enough for them to send an email or just call us to let us know they will drop by, grab some refugees, and head off on their merry way?

Slow down!

  • NGO: TNKR is an official non-profit organization registered with the Seoul City Government. TNKR is not a social club, a hangout joint, a language exchange, or a meetup group. So we need to build a real organization with a transparent process, proper data collection, accountability and protection of participants.
  • Multiple projects: We have many activities going on, it can be confusing to newcomers. Tutor? Coach? Volunteer Leadership Academy? Track 1? Track 2? Forums? Book Club discussions? I occasionally receive emails from people who write, “Hey Casey! I want to join your next meeting!” Then I think, for example, about all of the orientation sessions and meetings we are holding this month.

2. Customized Resume

Be careful! This may be the trickiest step during the application process! Some people ignore our guidelines and send their standard resume, which we reject until they get it right.

The most important thing to know about this step is that the resumes are for the refugees. When we say that TNKR is refugee-centered, that starts with the resume being formatted for them. They don’t need a detailed accounting of your academic and professional career or a resume you would send to a company in the US or South Korea.

What they need to know is: When and where are you available to tutor or coach? What are your particular teaching or coaching skills?

So watch this step! Or you might fall out of TNKR before you ever get started. First, our resume guidelines.

Why do we have these guidelines, and why can’t volunteers send in whatever format they want?

  • One-page maximum resume: Some volunteers have sent resumes as long as 12 pages. If every volunteer did that, and we had 15 volunteers apply, then refugees would need to wade through 180 pages.
  • Word document: We need the resumes all formatted with Word without any fancy graphics. Really, we have had some people with some high-tech resumes! Why is that a problem? We receive the resumes, then copy and paste the information from all of the applicants. You can see why PDF or other document formats could cause a problem, with those fancy-dancy graphics falling off the page.
  • One-paragraph self-introduction: Why in the world would we require such a thing? The refugees want to know who you are! Who are these nice people willing to give their time to help them learn English? Some of the statements, some are really sappy. Anyway, be sure to include this, because it is the first time that refugees get to “know” you, before later meeting in person.
  • Teaching (or coaching) preferences: We restrict this to two items. Many applicants declare they can teach anything, but with 15 people all saying they can teach anything, that won’t be a good guide for refugees! Some refuges want to focus on particular skills, and would like to study with a tutor who really wants to focus on that. So how can we help them make good choices when choosing their tutors? One way is not by overloading them with a bunch of information!!!!

Just follow the resume template, and you will be on the expressway to volunteering with TNKR.

  • 3. State-level ID

Some volunteers ask us why they need to submit a state-level ID.

  • NGO: There’s that term again! TNKR is an official non-profit organization registered with the Seoul City Government. TNKR is not a social club, a hangout joint, a language exchange, or a meetup group. If there is ever a scandal, #metoo, or some other problem arose from the reckless actions of someone in our organization, then TNKR would probably get shut down. Some people have asked if they could submit library cards, gym cards, and other forms of ID. Nope! It needs to be a state-level ID, preferably an ARC for non-Koreans and Korean ID cards for South Koreans, but passports are the second choice.
  • Protection of refugees and volunteers: It gives refugees security when they know that we have the ID of everyone who joins us. We require all refugees to also submit identifying information. We have also had North Korea sympathizers and watchers join our organization with the goal of finding “dirt.” We have even had people try to avoid submitting IDs or insisting they don’t need to give us their real names. That’s not a good volunteer!

4) Sign a Waiver

Some applicants have tried to avoid submitting a signed waiver and applicant even altered one line that he didn’t like. That’s not ethical and will get you barred from TNKR! You can email it (recommended) or sign it at our office. Why do we require a waiver?

  • NGO: There’s that term again! TNKR is an official non-profit organization registered with the Seoul City Government. TNKR is not a social club, a hangout joint, a language exchange, or a meetup group.
  • TNKR culture: We have developed our own culture and need volunteers who agree to abide by our process. We are a serious organization focused on helping North Korean refugees improve their English or tell their stories. Volunteers who consider themselves to be free agents within our organization are like poison to the culture we have developed.
  • Recommended by an evaluator: We have had three researchers study our organization, this is one of the recommendations from the first evaluator back in 2014 that we were given when we let her know we were considering becoming an official organization.

5) Follow up!~!~!

We receive many emails, messages, calls. Some people are serious and really and really want to volunteer, some others are just checking around with different organizations, and some others are just curious. If you want to get our attention, then start the application process!

  • Janice Kim: She is TNKR’s volunteer Academic Coordinator. Some months we receive as many as 50 applicants. Yes, she manages the entire process as a volunteer. She checks every detail, personally messages every applicant, and will often call applicants in advance.

So do you still want to be a TNKR volunteer?

If yes, then get the application process started! Some people are able to get this done within an hour. Some others take several days to figure out the process.

Some applicants unlikely to fit in with TNKR show up ready to lecture us about how we should change our application and process, without understanding that we have very specific reasons for our process.

And some struggle and give up, angry.

It doesn’t have to be that way, if you follow the steps above!

If our process is not acceptable for you, then I strongly recommend that you find a different organization that you can lecture to, I’m sure that many are waiting for such a person to join them.

For everyone else ready to follow our process, wants to help us continue our particular approach, and will respect the way we operate, then please, join TNKR!

You can have a lovely time and meet great people!


A final note, and this one isn’t required: Each volunteer who makes an effort to fundraise for the organization can make a big difference.

Setting the standard: We have now had almost 200 fundraisers set up by volunteers. Other organizations are amazed that our volunteers give their time as well as try to raise a dime for TNKR! Other organizations have reached out to me, asking me for advice about how they could have a similar campaign with volunteers. When they talk about it, volunteers dismiss them or discuss the ethics of engaging in fundraising.

Inspiring others: One of our fans was so inspired that he vowed to match the donations we receive at our super incredible 2019 Matching Donation Challenge. Because TNKR must move out of its current office by July 2019, we will use this money to acquire a suitable office.

Skin in the game: Some volunteers who fundraise or make donations have a deeper connection to TNKR. They don’t want the money they raised to go to waste and after informing relatives about us, they are more proud than when they remain anonymous. So join us, help us continue building a quality organization offering education opportunities for North Korean refugees!


Casey Lartigue

TNKR co-founder and International Director

Santacon Seoul celebrated its 10th anniversary with about 100 young people in Santa costumes or ugly sweaters marching in Sinchon and Hongdae on December 16, 2018.

The fun and revelry was also for a good cause, as the holiday partiers raised almost 500,000 won for Teach North Korean Refugees! 5,000 won of the ticket price was donated to TNKR for the second consecutive year.

Seoul Pub Crawl has been co-hosting Santa Pub Crawl since 2014.
The party starts at a pub, then crawling around Sinchon and Hongdae in search of fun. People from all around the world sang carols all night wherever they went.

This year marks Santacon Seoul’s 10th anniversary and Seoul Pub Crawl has been co-hosting Santa Pub Crawl since 2014.

On December 8 in Seoul, five women from four different countries delivered speeches at TEDxDongdaemunWomen. They were understandably nervous: They are all second or third language speakers of English. None of them are professional speakers, so this was a diversion from their daily lives.

  • It was a beautiful scene. Numerous TNKR volunteers were on hand to support a TNKR student giving her first TEDx speech.
  • TNKR collaborating with a TEDx organizer to put together an event.
  • The TNKR co-founder being asked to be the MC of a TEDx event.

So how did it all come together?

Read more

TNKR hosted a Book Club discussion with NK refugee author and poet Hyeon-A Ji on December 9 at the TNKR office. Our office was full with an audience of people from around the world.

The English version of her book “Million Miles to Freedom” is scheduled to be released in 2019.

Youngmin Kwon was the interpreter for the night

Speech and discussion

Read more

For the second consecutive year, TNKR has been asked to help North Korean refugee youngsters get prepared for an English speech contest.

We would like to get started by October 15, so if you are available and interested to help NK refugee youngsters between October 15 to November 2, leading up to the contest on November 3, then please be ready to apply when we post the application form very soon.

I will be returning as one of the judges, and coaches will also be invited to attend the contest. It is always a great time, with parents and friends joining the contest as attendees.

For those of you familiar with TNKR’s process, we will be using the same process. We plan on holding at least one orientation session before the refugee adolescents will be choose their coaches and we may conduct at least one orientation session online.

To be eligible:
1) Fill out the application.

Submit a properly formatted resume, ARC card or passport copy, and a signed waiver.

2) Have an initial phone call with TNKR co-founder Casey Lartigue. 02-6929-0942

3) You may be invited to a second phone call or online orientation to be held on Thursday and/or Friday.

NOTE: First preference will be given to TNKR members/volunteers.


Create a Resume

This resume will be presented to the refugees. Please read this closely and follow for your resume to be accepted.

Resume Formatting Guidelines:
* One-page maximum
* Word document format (PDFs are NOT accepted)
* Copy and paste the resume template (see template below)
* 12-point type for main text, 14-point for your name
* Photo (optional)
* No fancy formatting

Rename file as:
Speech Contest, November 3 Resume: “(Track 1)Resume_FirstName_LastName“

Be aware that this resume is for refugees to review, so make your pitch to them!

Resume Template (Copy & Paste):
Speech contest Resume
(photo, but not required)

1) Name: (Use the name you would like to be referred to by the refugees.)
2) Nationality:
3) Availability for tutoring:
Location and Distance: (Starting location, and please indicate how far you are willing to travel from that point. Example: Seoul Station, Lines 1 & 4, 30 minutes
Days and Times: (Example: Monday -Friday, 5 pm to 8 pm)
4) Two preferred teaching/coaching skills: (Example skills: Speech, presentation skills, essay writing, etc.)
5) Education background (mention current or latest school):
6) Employment (mention two jobs, at most):
7) One-paragraph introduction about yourself and why you want to join TNKR:
8) Contact Info: mobile number in Korea, Kakao ID, e-mail address (Note: This information will not be given to the refugees.)
Step 3. Submit Application Items

E-mail the following items to TNKR co-founder Casey Lartigue ( and TNKR Academic Coordinator Janice Kim (
* Formatted Resume
* ARC, Passport, or State-Level ID (scan or photo)
* TNKR waiver (scan or photo)
* Recommended free scanning apps: CamScanner, Tiny Scanner

To expedite your application:
Add Casey (“Y2KC“) and Janice (“jank123“) on Kakao Messenger, then send a message: “Hello, my name is ( ), I am an applicant with TNKR hoping to be a speech coach.”

P.S.: First preference is given to TNKR members: . Contact TNKR co-founder Casey Lartigue with questions,