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2017-04-20 Hansarang Foundation Award ceremony

I remember the moment I was nominated for the special “Social Contribution” Prize awarded by the Hansarang Rural Cultural Foundation.

My response: “Hahaha. I know I won’t win, but it is nice to be nominated.”

Then later I heard that I was a finalist, that’s when I began to take it seriously. Then I was informed that I had won. So last night, it was a great feeling to be on the stage, accepting the award, still not quite believing that I had won.

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There have been a few news articles about it.

 

 

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Eunkoo Lee captured my “Did I really win this?” moment.

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I was one of the six award winners. It was a great moment.

Then there were several photos of the award winners.

I also took some individual photos. The Hansarang Foundation had a professional photographer snapping away taking photos anytime we stopped to pose for photos.

I took photos with several of the VIPs in attendance. It was a wonderful night, one that I will never forget.

And… several TNKR volunteers, students and fans joined! I was so happy to share this moment with them.

They were cheering so loudly that even the announcer commented on the TNKR table!

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And of course, I would not have won it without TNKR co-director Eunkoo Lee!

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2017-04-02 Track 2: Refugees taking charge

TNKR started in March 2013 as “English Matching.” It was a hobby for the co-founders, as they did this on the side. TNKR is now an emerging NGO with its own office. We still have no paid staff, but despite this, we have held 55 Language Matching sessions with about 270 refugees and more than 560 volunteer coaches and tutors. Yesterday’s session was special because it was a Track 2 Matching session. Whereas we hold at least one Track 1 session per month at which refugees choose tutors for English study, we only hold Track 2 sessions (public speaking and other communication) when enough refugees request it.

Yesterday 7 refugees chose among 9 coaches (3 had last minute scheduling and other problems so there were 9 instead of 12). TNKR is a self-study project, with the focus being on refugees finding their own way and telling their own stories. We connect them with volunteer tutors and coaches to help them with that. After having orientation and discussing their projects, the refugees are really eager to get started.

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Hansarang Rural Cultural Foundation honors TNKR co-founder with award

List of 11th Hansarang Rural Cultural Foundation Award Recipients (6 people)

  1. Category: Special Award – Social Contribution
  • Name: Casey Lartigue
  • Home Region: Seoul
  • Position: International Director, Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) Global Education Center

Contributed to the social integration of North Korean refugees by providing free English learning opportunities

Casey Lartigue, an American, is the co-founder along with South Korean Eunkoo Lee of the Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) Global Education Center, a non-profit that provides free one-on-one English learning opportunities to North Korean refugees and helps them discover their English voice. Lartigue serves as the organization’s International Director.

In the United States, Lartigue worked in various education-related positions as a policy analyst. It was while volunteering to help orphans and low-income children in Seoul that Lartigue became committed to helping North Korean refugees. Realizing that English is one of the primary barriers faced by North Koreans, Lartigue began focusing on helping them with their English language needs.

TNKR has created a system where volunteer English tutors help resettled North Korean refugees by teaching them English. More than 550 volunteers have assisted 266 North Korean refugees through one-on-one tutoring. The volunteer tutors act not only as English teachers but also as mentors for the refugees, by helping them find their own voices and becoming positive role models for other refugees.

For Lartigue, volunteerism is not simply a duty but a way to live his deeply-held principles. He hopes for a positive cycle whereby his North Korean refugee students, after successfully adapting to the South Korean society, will go on to live life as they choose, and that they will make the most out of their new found freedom..

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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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2017-03-25 “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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2017-03-24 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.

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2017-03-22 Pam Davidson, TNKR volunteer forever!

Back in March 2013, “English Matching” began quietly. One of the biggest changes occurred when Cho Joo Yeon joined us. She brought us so much energy that for the first time, we could think about expanding as an organization. She recruited volunteers for us. One of them who has remained with us, no matter where she goes, is Pam Davidson.

Whenever we were holding a meeting, Pam would come from “The End of the World” to join the session. She was then living several hours away from Seoul, apparently on the last road before you would land in water to the south of South Korea. Matching sessions, speeches, special events. It didn’t matter, she would join, or apologize. She even attended one of our events in North Carolina back in 2015.

She was the first TNKR volunteer to donate to us. That was at a time that we didn’t have an office, website, phone, or future!

Pam returned to the USA a while ago, but she has remained one of our cheerleaders. She is always saying on Facebook that she wishes she could watch our events. I have held off on recording events until we had a team in place that could do it in a professional way. We are not an organization with Internet buzz, we haven’t had a marketing or social media team in place, so we might put a lot of effort into it but only get 800 clicks. When refugee speakers in our program are ready to present, we want to do it in a professional way that they can be proud of!

Finally, because of donations from supporters, we finally have enough money in the bank that we can think about an expansion I have had in mind for a long time: A TNKR video project. If we are successful, we will finally be able to present stories of TNKR speakers in a professional way. Unlike many people, Pam doesn’t just give praise! As soon as I told her that we were setting up a video project, she set up a fundraiser to support it!

Pam Davidson joined TNKR as a volunteer in early 2014. Read more

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2017-03-18 “Don’t Make Me Fly!”

This morning we coached a refugee who is getting prepared to give her first public speech in English when TNKR presents at the 13th KOTESOL Seoul conference. She was an English teacher in North Korea, but she lacks confidence to give a speech in English. So this morning we gave her feedback on her speech.

Step 1, she wrote her speech in Korean. We like it so the speakers deliver their speeches with as much of the original flavor as possible.

Step 2, TNKR volunteer translator Lee Saria translated it into English.

Step 3, I edited it.

Step 4, Eunkoo Lee and I gave her feedback today. She felt encouraged after the session. Before, she had been worried that we might want to cancel after hearing her speak. We tried to make it as realistic as possible by having her stand up to give the speech. Today I convinced Eunkoo Lee that we should buy a mic stand so that speakers can practice without holding the microphone and their speech text. She felt like she was flying her confidence was soaring.

Step 5: I will record the speech so she can follow the intonation and also use correct Texas pronunciation.

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2017-03-17 Inspired by Eunhee

Eunhee Park visited the TNKR office yesterday for classes with tutors Debbie Roberts and Kaina Ortiz. It is amazing to see her speaking in English. She joined TNKR almost two years ago at a basic level, and now she is laughing and joking in English! Those of you who haven’t read my Korea Times column about her, please do so, to see how incredible her story is. You can also read it in her own words at her fundraiser for TNKR.

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2017-03-16 Not everyone at McDonalds cooks hamburgers…

Something I hear very often: “Teach North Korean Refugees means that only teachers can volunteer at TNKR, right?” Another version: “But I’m not a teacher. Can I volunteer?” They are usually surprised to learn they can do things other than tutoring. As I often say in speeches: “Not everyone at KFC kills chickens. There are drivers, accountants, marketing specialists, salesmen, many other positions.”

Join us for TNKR’s Open House on April 1 to learn about many ways you can get involved.

Such as:

Tony is a professor in the USA teaching speech and communication. He has volunteered to analyze the speeches of refugees. He was at TNKR today for more than 7 hours, spending quite a bit of it analyzing the speeches from TNKR’s English speech contest. So much detail, I have already ordered him to avoid critiquing my speeches. As I told him: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

By the way, if you would like some nice Korean stickers, Tony will send them to you, if you donate at least 10,000 won to TNKR.

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