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2018-01-13 Eben Notes: “What a Wonderful Night”

Eben Appleton wrote: It was a special night for Teach North Korean Refugees, TNKR, when TNKR fans Sandra Durnick and Amanda Sheffy hosted a fundraiser for the all-volunteer group at the Hidden Cellar located in Seoul, Korea.

That’s what happens when a community rallies around a group and supports their humble project of helping North Korean refugees by teaching them English.

TNKR depends solely on fundraisers in order to continue their English teaching program. How much was donated? Over 1 million won! An additional amount of 340,000 won, was won in a final raffle by TNKR Academic Coordinator, Janice Kim. After winning, she immediately donated the money to the fundraiser. TNKR Co-founder, Casey Lartigue Jr., pulled the final raffle ticket and was pleasantly surprised by her donation. Thank you Janice Kim!

Director Lartigue felt he should have said more about TNKR during the party fundraiser, but instead spent the entire evening appreciatively thanking those many who were in attendance.

Personally, I wish I had been there to see the excitement of my many friends at TNKR. I realize the fundraiser will help them to sustain their amazing organization for another year.

Tomorrow will be a busy, back to the old grind, kind of day at the office. I am certain those at TNKR are still “walking on air” from the night before.

Congratulations, dear friends, and thanks to all supporters who know a good thing when they see it.

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2018-01-04 Anyone else spot a trend?

In the last two days at the TNKR office:

* Open House with volunteers interested in joining TNKR

* Interviews with nine refugees entering or rejoining TNKR.

*  Two Refugee Adjustment Transition Sessions for refugees on TNKR’s Waiting List.

*  Two interviews by major media

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Listen to the refugees in theory, or practice

Several refugees came into the office the last two days. One of the questions I ask them is: What is your main learning goal?

Their responses the last two days:

  • Conversation.
  • Conversation, grammar.
  • Conversation, grammar.
  • Conversation.
  • Conversation.
  • Writing and Speaking.
  • Conversation.
  • Conversation

Anyone spot a trend?

Some tutors joining TNKR think I’m a bit rough when I correct the mistakes of refugees, especially in Kakao exchanges. Should I listen to the refugees, then ignore what they say? When refugees join TNKR, I ask them if they would like to be corrected immediately or later on. The responses the last two days:

Immediately.
Immediately.
Immediately.
Immediately.
Immediately.
Immediately.
Immediately.
Immediately.

Anyone spot a trend? Is it unreasonable for me to correct their mistakes on the spot? I tell some of the sensitive teachers who worry that I’m being rough on the refugees: “Don’t worry. North Korean refugees are used to self-criticism in North Korea.” I then add, “Over the last few years, so many refugees have thanked me for correcting their mistakes, some have told me that it was the first time they had been corrected.”

I ask students if they want tutors to use Korean when teaching. Their responses the last two days, as translated by TNKR National Director Eunkoo Lee:

  • The tutors should use English. When I first studied Chinese, I knew nothing. They didn’t teach me using any Korean, but I learned Chinese anyway. I have been in this kind of situation before, I can handle it.
  • That is okay if the tutors want to use Korean to teach me. But I don’t want it. It is better to use English only, then I can learn faster.
  • That’s okay, but I already speak Korean. What I need is for a teacher to teach me in English.
  • Definitely I am okay for the teachers to use Korean, I am at such a low-level that the teachers may have trouble teaching me. But TNKR is English-focused, right?
  • I hope the teachers can understand some Korean. My English level is so low that the teachers may not want to teach me. I hope they will teach me in English.
  • No, I don’t want the teachers to use Korean. I heard that TNKR is the place where teachers only use English, that’s why I came here. I already studied in a class with the teacher using Korean, I don’t feel that I learned. Now I hope I can study only in English.
  • I am okay because I am at the ABC level. But I hope the teachers will use English, not Korean. I need to improve everything about English, I heard that the teachers in TNKR only use English.
  • Using Korean doesn’t seem to be a good approach. I really prefer that the teachers only use English. If the teacher uses Korean, then maybe I will rely on it too much so I won’t learn.

Anyone spot a trend? They say they want English. Should I listen to them or just ignore them? When they agree to the use of Korean, it is to make the teachers feel comfortable because the refugees believe the teachers will be bored and disappointed with their low English levels. What I have learned is that once the basic level English learners are with tutors that they will give in if the tutors use Korean or some of the refugees who lack confidence will use Korean. We tell the tutors to remain firm, but some allow the refugees to run from English. And then we have the occasional tutor who insists on using Korean.

I guess the prospective volunteers who join us and try to tell me how to run TNKR believe I haven’t learned anything after working with more than 300 North Korean refugees the last few years and interviewing many of them over the last few months. Most of what we hear from refugees is good, although yesterday we did hear from one of the refugees about one of the tutors inviting her to join his religious and personal activities without informing us.

Academic Coordinator Janice Kim embraces our approach and she reminds tutors of the importance of teaching the refugees in English.

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TNKR in the media

Some people are amazed by how much media coverage TNKR gets. No one is more amazed by it than I am.

  • We don’t have a paid staffer handling media.
  • We don’t have a media specialist.
  • We don’t have a media list.
  • The volunteers handling our main social media are English teachers in South Korea who want to help us in their spare time.
  • I run our main Facebook group, which is like having asking a hungry bear to pat you on the head. Is anyone surprised that I get banned by Facebook about once a month and have probably had my account downgraded so that fewer people will see my messages? 

I have been asked what is our secret to getting so much media coverage. The answer is so simple.

We do great work.

We attract media based on the great and important work that our team does. Some people want to give me credit, but I suspect that we receive a lot of media coverage despite me.

Hwang In-Cheol declared it is a “miracle” how much the media has been paying attention to his campaign to have his father released from North Korea.

Big-time media interviewing me.

I found my home: A face made for radio, being interviewed by a radio outlet.

I love TV people because they don’t run from cameras.

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Refugee Adjustment Transition Process (AKA, In-house tutoring)

We received some bad news: Our landlord has put our building on the real estate market. Our lease will be up in July 2018, so at that time we may have to move out, depending on the next landlord. We *may* have to move out. I mentioned this on Facebook, we immediately had some people asking when we were moving out. I’m surprised there wasn’t  a moving truck in front of the TNKR office this morning, as arranged by fans who concluded we must move out immediately.

Others may be panicking, but TNKR has been so unstable for so many years that we are surprised to have had stability since July 2016.

We love this office, but we will need to upgrade eventually.

  • We would like to have more tutors and students come to our building to have a closer relationship. Some volunteers join us, get picked by refugees, then we never see them again (and even get bothered by our demand that they include us in all conversations with refugees they meet through us and are lazy about sending in tutoring reports).
  • We would like to talk to refugees more often to make sure they are having a good experience. In occasional calls, they tell us a lot, but naturally we learn much more in face-to-face discussions at our office.
  • We would like to attend more classes.
  • One refugee who has been studying with us for months (but also missed several classes) still can’t answer basic questions. After I tested her, she and her tutor kind of woke up, and became more focused in their class. She was no longer sleep walking and the tutor was reminded that he doesn’t need to over-teach.
  • A refugee told us yesterday that two of her tutors speak so fast that she can’t understand anything they say, but the tutors haven’t sensed it and haven’t adapted to the refugee’s level (she says her other tutors bring things down to her level).

We now have two volunteers tutoring refugees in our office. We always learn something from joining the classes briefly and talking with both the refugee and tutor after the class. Youngmin has been our main tutor helping refugees get prepared for the Matching sessions. We have occasional drop-ins offering to help, but we do need stability with this part of the program. Alex has now joined us and pledged to be with us long-term.

We would like to expand this part of TNKR so we can help more refugees get prepared before they join the main part of TNKR, but we must be careful to expand this because we don’t have adequate classroom space, not enough tutors who can commit to come to our office regularly, and we still must keep our activities focused on the main parts of TNKR (Matching sessions of Track 1 and 2 so refugees can choose their tutors and coaches and have flexibility).

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TNKR Open House

We had a fantastic Open House session last night. Several attendees came up with ideas for events, fundraising and other activities.

I love these sessions, great brainstorming, last night we came together like a team.

The hard part? The follow up. That team scatters into different directions, people don’t answer follow up messages or they disappear never to be heard from again, some people start hanging out doing things unrelated to the reason we came together.

At some point, we are going to have a Volunteer Coordinator who can take charge of talking with volunteers and even have a person in charge of managing Open House sessions.

We have volunteers last night who volunteered to help with and join our Book Club, to translate TNKR material into other languages, to join as tutors and coaches, to help with social media, to connect us with larger organizations and websites that can bring awareness, and most importantly, with fundraising.

 

 

Volunteer reading about Hwang In-Cheol’s campaign to have his father freed from North Korea.

Support the Bring My Father Home campaign

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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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2017-11-25 14th KOTESOL DCC Symposium and Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanks so much to Kotesol: Daejeon-Chungcheong Chapter for inviting TNKR to present at its annual symposium and Thanksgiving Dinner. Eunkoo Lee and I presented as the featured speakers at the Plenary session. Thanks so much to Mike Peacock, DCC Chapter President, for making it happen. I’m just sorry that because of our tight schedule that we couldn’t join earlier in the day.


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2017-11-26 TNKR Matching 66: Sitting-room only!

On Sunday 2017-11-26, Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) just held its largest ever Language Matching session: 10 refugee students, 21 tutors, 1 South Korean student. Instead of standing-room only, it was sitting room only. During the week, we were on pace for a somewhat typical large session, with 16 tutors and 9 refugees signed up. Eunkoo Lee hasn’t checked recently, but we probably have more than 70 refugees on the waiting list to join the program. And with refugees saying at the orientation that they wanted to select several tutors, we decided to hold an emergency orientation session to accept five more tutors.

The question became: What if everyone shows up? We have been on a hot streak recently, with every tutor showing up. We could expand because Janice Kim has taken over as Manager of Track 1. In the past, 15 tutors was all that I could handle alone, in addition to my other many duties for TNKR, and I greatly regretted the time that we had 19 tutors at a session. It isn’t just the session, but the follow up when some tutors disappear knowing I can’t chase them all. Whereas I tend to be grumpy in teaching applicants how to fill out the resume, Janice is delightful, patient.

So we decided to have our biggest session. We only have 22 chairs, so if your figuring ain’t bad, you can guess that about 35 people (including staff) were going to have trouble squeezing into 22 chairs. So we made the decision to move all of the chairs out of the room, and to have everyone sit on the floor, like we were back in elementary school.

Support TNKRhttp://teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/donate/

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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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2017-10-10 TNKR’s British Invasion

TNKR held its second planning meeting for its trip to the UK next week. We had many tasks assigned and have a lot to do.

Our biggest challenge: Attracting attendees to our 10/21 forum.

Here’s the agenda:

1:50- 2:05 Registration & tea time

2:05- 2:10 Welcoming remarks

Casey Lartigue Jr. (TNKR Co-founder)

Jihyun Park (Stepping Stones, Co-founder)

2:10-2:30 The Launch Ceremony of Stepping Stones

2:30-3:00 North Korean traditional dance performance

3:00-3:10 Tea time

3:10-3:25 Speaker 1

Kim Hyeong-soo: Understanding the North Korean System

3:25-3:45 Speaker 2

Park Ji-hyun: Life as a North Korean Woman in China

3:45-4:10 Speakers 3&4

Casey Lartigue & Eunkoo Lee: Impact of English education for North Korean refugees

4:10-5:00

Q & A

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+1 Volunteers

It is no secret that TNKR relies on volunteer tutors and coaches. But we also have plenty of volunteers helping in other ways. I encourage volunteers to be +1. In addition to tutoring or coaching, they can do one extra thing.

Annie was a volunteer tutor with TNKR in early 2016. She has stayed in touch, promising that she would get involved again. She stopped by on Sunday, she has offered to help us with translation (English and Korean) and social media (Instagram).

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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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