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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.”

Support TNKR

Random moments and observations from the contest:

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2017-08-17 Media, tutoring, coaching, visitors

Interview with an international reporter

Tutoring and Coaching

 

Mark Bendul: TNKR tutor, coach, donor, fundraiser and cheerleader!

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Youngmin Kwon: TNKR tutor, donor, fundraiser, Office Manager, Project Manager (Bring My Father Home)

Individual Study Plan

When refugees first join TNKR, we have an interview with them. TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee starts with an individual that includes a scaled-down orientation. TNKR International Director Casey Lartigue then interviews them with the Individual Study Plan developed by Columbia University professor Bae YoungSeh.

Check my recent Korea Times column for more about this.

TNKR Visitors

We haven’t figured out how to work together yet, but Saerom is really an impressive young lady. She uses her brain, analyzes situations, then gives concrete suggestions.

These singers from the USA stopped by TNKR to learn a bit about what we are doing.

 

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2017-07-22 TNKR 61st Matching session

REFUGEE TESTIMONIALS

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…

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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.

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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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2017-07-12 TNKR interviewed about volunteering

Researchers who usually contact us at TNKR want to talk to refugees studying with us. But today was a bit different:

  • According to the researchers who interviewed us today, TNKR is seen as a pioneer in the field of volunteering in South Korea. So they wanted to learn about our process, history, and development. They hope to highlight us so more South Koreans can know about what we are doing. Their focus isn’t on us helping refugees, but on our approach when it comes to volunteering. In many programs, volunteers just drop in, there is no real registration process, but we have high expectations for volunteers. As one of our previous volunteers said, “Volunteering doesn’t have to mean no standards.”
  • The researchers wanted to know about the volunteers. It went a step deeper than South Koreans surprised that foreigners are helping North Korean refugees. Their focus was more on what motivates people to volunteer when they come to South Korea. If South Koreans are more aware of what we are doing then they may be motivated to volunteer.
  • I also let them know that 25% of TNKR tutors also raise money for the organization.

So it was a nice interview!

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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.
 
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We have two volunteers who are tutoring and coaching this morning, both classes started at 11 a.m. It is amazing that we have so many people willing to give so much of their time to help North Korean refugees learn English.
Mark is having his first coaching session at TNKR. He first learned about us from TNKR’s appearance on 이만갑. His student has been with us for quite a while, she has studied English in many places. She says the difference is that TNKR tutors focus on her particular learning needs, rather than her having to follow a curriculum or to study in a group session.
 
Louise has been tutoring in TNKR since late 2015. It is rare to have a tutor stay for so long with a single student. The student arrived about 20 minutes early for her class. What an improvement since she first began. She thanked me and said she is always thankful to TNKR for giving her such a great opportunity to study 1:1 with an English tutor for free.
 
Kaina joined TNKR earlier this year. She and her student have been studying continuously since then. This morning her student brought her a small gift. 🙂
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We recently called for an Emergency Matching session, thankfully we had 10 tutors who went through the application process and came to the session. When I called it, I wasn’t sure we could get enough tutors for a session. We will be having our 60th Language Matching session later today, so I will be updating this.
We held an Emergency Orientation yesterday afternoon to get prepared for today. 10 volunteers answered our call for a Language Matching session this weekend. I often say that TNKR could not survive without volunteers. We feel it even moreso this weekend because we have been able to squeeze in another Orientation and Matching session to slightly reduce the waiting list of 70 refugees.
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What’s even more incredible is that many of the volunteers stayed around for the Open House right after the Orientation. Anna Martinson, TNKR fundraising manager, led the session.
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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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