Leonard Read, founder of FEE (Foundation for Economic Education), talked about different levels of leadership. The 3rd Level is when people start to seek you out for your counsel. If people aren’t seeking you out, then you can draw your own conclusions about your range of influence.
Although he was talking more about the spreading of ideas rather than real action, I suppose that Mr. Read would have said that we are approaching that 3rd Level of Leadership. We have numerous people coming to us, trying to get involved.
- We have refugees tracking us down even though we don’t do any advertising.
- We have volunteers constantly popping up, locally and from around the world.
- We don’t have a communications team for media, but we still have many requests.
- TNKR has been nominated for and won awards from organizations we have never heard of.
- We are credible enough that I’m constantly sending out recommendation letters for volunteers.
- I don’t consider myself to be much of a mentor, but many people have adopted me as one!
The last few days have been busy so I haven’t had time to update, so here are several in one!
We often have many North Korean refugees reaching out to us. But the last few days, our heads have been spinning with the number of phone calls, messages, visits, orientation sessions, applications, requests from and interviews with refugees studying, applying to or returning to TNKR.
Can you imagine our feelings when they praise us, come to visit us, or consider our rinky-dinky little project to be so valuable? I have heard that other programs must send constant reminders to refugees to join their meetings, conferences and workshops, but in our case, the refugees come looking for us. There are larger, well-funded organizations that ask us to “send” refugees to them. We have developed a great program that has minimized socializing, dating and hanging out, and instead have volunteers who give their time to make sure that refugees learn. Refugees ran from North Korea, but they run to us!
Some people think I am exaggerating when I say such things, it apparently drives some people crazy, and others don’t believe me.
“At a recent party, I bumped into an influential South Korean colleague who insists she tried not to be prejudiced against refugees. She has heard from others working directly with refugees that they lie and cheat with impunity, don’t show up for classes or events, are always late, show no sense of responsibility, and are passive until they are pushed. She then told me that I must be having the same problems.
“She didn’t believe me. She had heard a little about our project and even checked a few of my email updates, but she said that I am the first person to work long-term with refugees who says they can be disciplined, thankful, and aggressive in a positive way. She said that her colleagues working with refugees have horror stories and social welfare workers routinely get their hearts broken.”
I’m not surprised by the failure of top-down programs with workshops and conferences that refugees aren’t really interested in to join fun camps and socializing opportunities mixed in to entertain but not necessarily assist them in reaching their goals.
There are other wonderful stories from refugees who came to visit us in the last week, but I can’t highlight them all. Yesterday we conducted four interviews with NK refugees who hope to join TNKR. We had five more refugees stop by to drop off their applications for a scholarship program we have with our partner organization Serpentem Scholarship Mission Foundation.
People who learn about TNKR naturally are curious about the refugees who join our project. It is easy to forget that we have many volunteer tutors who give up a lot of time to help North Korean refugees with improving their English. We have had almost 400 North Korean refugees study in TNKR with almost 800 tutors and coaches since we began in 2013. And it is quite incredible because TNKR is not a “show up and teach” project without any preparation. After going our application process, tutors must be prepared for 1:1 classes with students who are eager to learn. Even “free talking” and conversation need to be structured, so that it isn’t just chit-chat. Students can go anywhere for that.
Numerous refugees in TNKR have studied with others, ranging from friends, language exchange partners, institutes, university classes, people they meet on the street, church or Internet. The difference they say is that the tutors they meet through TNKR embrace the TNKR philosophy of putting the students at the center. Our classes are always 1:1, students are expected to communicate to tutors what it is they want to study and it is reasonable for tutors to expect students to show up to class with something they want to learn (vocabulary, article, dialogue, questions, homework). As one refugee has been telling other refugees, “Don’t join TNKR until you are ready to study.”
We are currently recruiting volunteers to join us, for our final orientation and Matching sessions this summer.
- Track 2 coaching, orientation sessions by appointment at the TNKR office until July 13, then July 16 offline Matching session.
- Track 1 Skype tutoring, orientation session is July 15 at the TNKR office.
- Track 1 tutoring, orientation session is July 21 at the TNKR office, the Matching session is July 28 at the TNKR office.
You can call the TNKR office July 11 with questions about any of these tutoring/coaching options, 02-6929-0942, ask for TNKR co-founder Casey Lartigue. You can get the process going by applying here.
Here’s my Korea Times column: “Why foreigners volunteer to help NK refugees“
Rachel joined us last month. She meets this student at the TNKR once a week. They are laughing and joking so much that I had to check on them to make sure they were really studying. And they were!!! In addition to tutoring, Rachel has also set up a fundraiser for TNKR.
Michelle is an energetic tutor!! She takes command of her class, using various unique teaching techniques to help students learn from doing, not just hearing. She has set up a fundraiser in which she writes poems for people who donate to TNKR.
Caoimhe joined us earlier this year and has now been volunteer for four months. Her classes are serious, focused. She has one of the most successful fundraisers set up by a tutor who is not part of the TNKR staff.
Today’s big events and activities at TNKR:
- PARTNERSHIP: The big news today is that TNKR finalized the details of a partnership that we will be announcing on Tuesday during an MOU signing ceremony. This will be absolutely fantastic for refugees studying in TNKR. We are thankful that a South Korean organization that is much larger than ours has found us and wanted to partner with us. Stay tuned! And separate of that, we had a second meeting about another possible partnership, but that one will take a bit more time.
- MEDIA: Another day, another reporter at the TNKR office. This time, the reporter recorded TNKR senior fellow Tony Docan-Morgan having a coaching session with a North Korean refugee who will become internationally known. We have already seen her improve really quickly, it will be impossible to stop her once she has sharpened her English.
- TUTORING: We had a tutoring session with one of our tutors who joined us last month but has had many tutoring sessions already. I love it that she and her student she tutored today make it a point to meet at our office. One day when TNKR is a large organization then we will be able to hold more study sessions.
- PUBLIC SPEAKING: Scott gave another speech. We weren’t able to make it, but I’m sure he was great. He has an incredible story and I can see how much he has sharpened his public speaking in the last couple of months.
- ACTIVISM: We couldn’t make it, but I heard that Hwang In-Cheol and Youngmin Kwon had a great meeting getting prepared for a press briefing at the Press Club in Seoul.
- OUTREACH: TNKR co-founders Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee, and TNKR Senior Fellow Tony Docan-Morgan will be speaking at the 2018 Korean Association for Multicultural Education International Conference on May 24 from 4:20 pm at Korea University.
Support TNKR’s building fund
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Back in the day when I was a college reporter, I learned that a good reporter talks to at least three sources for an article. Relying on one person is the laziest form of reporting. I used to get surprised by reporters who didn’t want to talk to others, but I got used to it. I don’t mean enemies and ideologues who even hate what I have for breakfast–I mean, even someone who can add perspective and knowledge about what we are doing with TNKR.
I encourage reporters to talk to others in TNKR who have leadership positions. There is some risk in this, because some reporters only see what they see, and they will report the observations of newcomers who barely understand TNKR. A volunteer who stands up and says someone off-the-wall is a great man-bites-dog story. When I look at some articles about TNKR a few years ago, some include volunteers who probably haven’t thought about TNKR in years, didn’t know much about it then beyond their limited experience, and had no idea about things we were planning or dealing with to build the organization.
This reporter who is working on an online article interviewed me, co-founder Eunkoo Lee, Assistant Director Dave Fry, Academic Coordinator Janice Kim, tutors, and refugees in TNKR. Plus, he stayed for more than 3 hours to observe one of our matching sessions. He has also followed up with questions. He could, like many reporters, get some facts wrong, but it won’t be because he didn’t try to get an understanding about TNKR. It would be because, like most reporters, he didn’t show me the article in advance. As I’ve learned, most reporters would prefer to get complaints about what has been posted or published rather than discussing it in advance to check for misunderstandings. 🙂
When Columbia University professor Young Seh Bae visited South Korea in 2016, she stopped by our office to do some volunteer work. Unlike so many volunteers who want to help the refugees directly, she provided expertise helping us develop TNKR. Sometimes I get surprised when people say they want to help build up TNKR. The result is such indirect help really does help refugees. A strong TNKR is able to help refugees more efficiently and effectively.
Prof. Bae wanted to know about some of the things we wanted to do. She then zeroed in on our process of learning about what refugees wanted to study. We didn’t have a set curriculum, so we needed a better process of learning. She then designed an Individual Education Plan beyond what I would have ever done. I then tweaked it based on interviews with refugees, and continue to tweak it.
It is a great example of a professional helping us to build up TNKR.
When refugees join us now, we start with the IEP. TNKR co-director Eunkoo Lee will also interview them in Korean to make sure we have a good understanding of what they want. It helps that Eunkoo is at TNKR every day, rather than just talking with refugees in her spare time.
We aren’t probing or engaging in data-mining for the sake of collecting information–we focus on how we can help them have a better experience in the program.
Sometimes it is really moving because so many of the refugees know who we are, some even want to take photos with us (with their cameras). Some consider us to be heroes. One began crying recently as she thanked us and others who help refugees. Many of them are curious about we are doing this, when clearly it is not lucrative and we could both be doing other things to make money.
So many of them say: “Don’t forget about me.” They know we have a long waiting list, so they want to make sure we don’t forget about them. Some have called us, insisting they be able to visit, even when we tell them that they must wait. Many of them even contact us directly, eager to let us know how much they want to study.
It is good to know that TNKR has such a solid reputation among refugees. Some of the newcomers don’t realize how difficult it is to have such a good reputation, and of course we still have some vultures around us who use any excuse to meet the refugees socially (a common trick now is the playboys who hang around the program and try to find opportunities to meet refugee females, and some even highlight that they used to be TNKR, but now they are not so it is okay to date or hang out).
The last few weeks have been busy, with a number of speeches, events, meetings, and planning. Plus, to keep myself from going poor, I am now teaching at a university, meaning that I can’t focus on TNKR completely these days.
I had a Volunteer Leadership Academy orientation in mid-February to get people to start thinking about ways they can get more deeply involved in TNKR. I was hoping to have someone take charge of that, but it looks like it will still be up to me to get it going. So I am now planning another session for April 15.
There’s an old saying:
Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) is a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing free English learning opportunities to North Korean refugees. For more information, take a look at our About page.
TNKR’s registration number with the Seoul City Government: 143-82-65155
US Tax ID: 82-2591748
Email: Please use this form
Mon-Fri: 11AM-8PM (KST)
September 29 @ 8:00 pm - September 30 @ 1:00 am
October 6 @ 6:00 pm - 7:50 pm
October 20 @ 7:00 pm - 11:00 pm