The following section is a compilation of common questions that individuals have about Teach North Korean Refugees. We recommend that anyone with questions consult this section first before sending an inquiry to TNKR.
Questions in this section range from general information about TNKR to more detailed information about how volunteering works, volunteer requirements, and our expectations for volunteer conduct. If you have a question that was not answered below, please contact us.
Track 1: Frequently Asked Questions
What does a typical matching session look like?
- Send a Kakao message to TNKR International Director Casey Lartigue.
- Submit a state-level ID (passport, ARC, Korean ID).
*Introductions by volunteer tutors
- Availability (Date, Time, Location)
- Teaching interest (maximum 2)
- Why do you want to join TNKR?
- How did you learn about TNKR?
*Introductions by refugees
- Arrival date in South Korea
- Availability (Date, Time, Location)
- Learning goal(s)
- Career goal
- Feedback about TNKR
- How did you learn about TNKR?
- How many tutors would you like?
*Edit by tutors
- Tutors can edit (1) one and only one item about themselves. For example, a refugee may mention something that sparks a thought in you. Then you can edit that remark (without pointing to the refugee).
- Going in rounds based on when they arrive, refugees select tutors until they have chosen as many as they want or the tutors will no longer accept more refugees. Refugees and tutors can take photos together, then we take a group photo (mosaic for refugees who cannot be identified as being from NK).
* We say goodbye to the tutors, the TNKR co-directors then have a final discussion with refugees to confirm they understand expectations in the program.
*We try to start and end on time, but that depends on when people arrive, the number of participants. Typically, that means from 2-4 pm.
How many tutors may the refugees select?
*One special feature about TNKR is that refugees choose the tutors. We believe this is the main reason that so many refugees apply to TNKR even though they know they must wait several months to join.
In a Korea Times column, TNKR co-founder Casey Lartigue quoted NK refugee Eunhee Park
“The most impressive thing is that I could choose the tutors. I received their resumes in advance, at the matching session I could choose as many tutors as I wanted. The entire focus was on refugees.”
Selections by Refugees
There are a few main reasons that refugees do the choosing in TNKR.
- Self-responsibilty: Initially, the TNKR directors matched the refugees and tutors. However, we sensed that the refugees were passive. Once the responsibilty was on the refugees, they began reviewing the resumes in advance, analyzing which tutors would be most suitable for them.
- Ownership: By being given the responsibility to choose their own tutors, they could not blame others for the selections they made. For example, when we first began TNKR, some refugees complained that the tutors we had matched them with could not understand Korean. Some other refugees complained that the tutors they were matched with would try to speak Korean to them too often. Given the responsibility to choose, refugees would have to weigh which tutors were most appropriate. In some cases, they choose both kinds of tutors–those who don’t understand, thereby eliminating the temptation for them to speak in Korean, and also tutors who could understand them if they wanted to express an idea in Korean first.
Refugees can choose as many tutors as they want during the session. The main reasons refugees are allowed to choose multiple tutors:
- In the past, when refugees were matched with only one tutor, we found that tutors felt pressure. For example, if a tutor went on vacation or was not available, then the refugee would not have a tutor. Also, in meeting once a month, tutors felt burdened. When we changed it to twice a month with multiple tutors and refugees, then the tutors felt less burdened (and, by the way, many continued meeting weekly when there was no burden to do so).
- Some tutors discover us just as they are about to leave Korea and are looking for something different or meaningful to do.
- Many tutors are on one-year contracts or are international students, so they won’t have a long-term connection with our program. By having only one tutors, many refugees would be quickly abandoned.
- Refugees can learn from tutors with different teaching styles. They can also reinforce what they learn by practicing with different tutors.
- Refugees enjoy meeting people from around the world.
- Some study pairs click better than others, and those pairs are likely to continue studying together.
What is the dress code for the Matching and study sessions?
Please be professional. A good rule of thumb is to dress for Matching and sessions in the same way that you would dress for work (minimal amount of skin showing, for women shorts and skirts of an appropriate length, nothing ripped, etc.). Use your best judgement and be culturally sensitive in a professional context.
- We will be taking a group photo that will be posted on Facebook.
- Refugees will be making selections. So you want to dress in a nice way.
For men: Long pants, not shorts. We had one female refugee who was offended when her tutor wore shorts to their sessions, she expected a tutor to be more professional (she ended the class with him after that).
How long do Orientation and Matching sessions/orientation last?
This is probably the most common question asked.
Orientation: Typically 60 to 90 minutes, depending on how informed tutors are when they arrive. We expect tutors to have already watched TNKR videos, read this FAQ and articles about TNKR, and to know the basic requirements. That way, we can spend time discussing deeper aspects of how we can collaborate to refugees. Tutors who show up ignorant at the Orientation typically are the tutors slow in sending in their resumes, late to the sessions, and then they are the tutors least likely to send in their tutor reports and are constantly asking questions that are in the FAQ.
Matching: Typically 2 hours. The length is dependent upon when people arrive, how many refugees and tutors are present, how long everyone speaks for, and how many questions we need to answer at the end. Two hours seems like a long time for some people, so you are warned in advance that the session almost always lasts 2 hours. So don’t make an appointment right after the session, we sometimes do need a bit of time to clarify things.
What if I can’t attend both orientation and the matching session?
Apply again in the future.
*Attendance at orientation is mandatory
- Orientation is a chance for tutors to get a deeper understanding of the program.
- Some tutors don’t pay attention until we have an orientation.
- It is a chance for tutors to ask questions.
- Some tutors aren’t aware of where our building is, so by attending Orientation, they can visit the building, ask questions, feel more comfortable.
- It gives me a chance to eyeball every tutor in advance.
*Participation in Matching is mandatory.
- This is a chance for refugees to choose their tutors directly. A founding principle of TNKR is that refugees have the power to choose. The best way for them to choose is by meeting and hearing directly from tutors in advance, then making their choices.
*Participation and attendance at both Orientation and Matching within the same month is mandatory.
- We make updates every month. When we allowed some tutors to attend a Matching session months later, those would turn out to be the tutors saying “I didn’t know!”
May I speak with the refugees before or during the matching session?
So our rules:
- No interaction with refugees in advance of the session. We want them to make choices about all tutors on equal footing, based on reviewing their resumes and introductions.
- This also means not to ask refugees questions during their introductions. We have had some tutors who tried to get themselves noticed by refugees by asking them questions.
We had some friendly tutors who wanted to chat with refugees before the session. During feedback sessions with refugees, we learned that refugees would often choose those friendly tutors because they felt a connection to them.
We also noticed that the refugees made those choices regardless of the compatibility. Predictably, those matches did not last long.
What qualifications do I need in order to become a tutor?
Most of the applicants to TNKR are currently or previously worked as English teachers or tutors. The advantage they have is experience!
We do accept international students, business people, housewives and others who are willing to give it a try. Just be upfront about your experience. What is more important: What are the particular teaching skills you would like to focus on. For example, there are some refugees who need help with the basics, some only know their ABCs, days of the week. But there are others who want to engage in news discussion and debate. Still others want help with understanding their school readings and assignments. So there is not a set formula for a tutor. What is most important is that you can do an assessment of what the refugee needs, and help the student reach his or her learning goals.
Bilingual Korean-English speakers are also welcome, particularly as tutors for those refugees whose English level is extremely low, but we make it clear: YOU ARE NOT TO ENGAGE IN CONVERSATION IN KOREAN. The refugees are allowed to speak Korean, you can use your Korean ability to understand then explain to them in English. This is a fine line, many bilingual speakers can’t stop themselves. So if you must use Korean to tutor, then don’t apply.
We generally don’t accept high school students into the project as tutors or students. We prefer that high school students help us in other ways, such as helping at events, social media, organizing and hosting events, fundraisers, developing materials, translation.
Is there a set curriculum?
The heart of the TNKR project is to meet the particular learning needs of refugees. They have a wide range of study goals, interests, and English abilities that are beyond the capacity of our all-volunteer program. Instead of having refugees follow a curriculum, we developed the program so they could find their own way.
We rely on the tutors to meet the students, figure out their particular learning needs, and tailor their lessons accordingly.
TNKR tutors are developing a curriculum for those refugees who would like a structured curriculum. Refugees are welcome to study with the set curriculum as well as with the learner-centered approach.
How long should study sessions with the refugees last?
Each study session should last for at least 90 minutes. We ask that our tutors commit to meeting their students a minimum of twice a month for 3 months, unless an alternative agreement has been reached in advance.
- 1) Self-study program. Refugees are strongly encouraged to bring learning materials, such as university textbooks, newspaper articles, vocabulary lists, whatever it is they are interested in. That gives clues to the tutors about ways they can help.
- 2) Don’t overteach. Some tutors are tempted to teach everything they know. For the purposes of this program, it is more important to teach them something, then reinforce it. Refugees have many study options (University classes, language institutes offering huge discounts, free government programs, community centers, friends, language exchanges, online education). Our program offers 1:1 studying for them to practice with fluent and native language English speakers.
- 3) Reinforce. In a typical lesson, we suggest that tutors spend about half of the class teaching, another half getting refugees to generate original sentences.
What if I can’t commit to 3 months?
If it’s impossible for you to do 3 months but you’re still keen on volunteering, then communicate that to us. Let us know how frequently you’d be able to meet with students and for how long, and we will pass that information along to the refugees. If you’re leaving in a month but could meet students twice a week, for example, you might find a number of refugees still eager to study with you.
The key points:
- Communicate what you can do.
- The refugees will make the final decisions.
- Long-term connections are still better, and tutors will to commit three months or longer should also communicate that. We’ve had refugees in the program for two years or longer, they have met many tutors as a result. After going through several tutors, many of them start to look for stability.
What if I want to do a language exchange with the student who selects me?
If you’re looking to do a language exchange, then TNRK is not for you. This program is intended to help North Korean refugees improve their job marketability and academic skills through bettering their English.
We are running a trial now in which we allow refugees to use Korean, but tutors must answer in English. So far it seems to be working, at least when TNKR staff is observing. Some refugees with lower level English skills will start by using Korean, then gradually start trying in English. The key is if the tutors can endure that tough time. Some tutors can’t, they want to use Korean with the refugees. Some tutors can hold out, and when they can, the reward is that refugees start using English more often.
We have given up expecting refugees to use English only, some of them can’t do it. And when they start to speak Korean, and the tutors allow it, then they both start using Korean, thereby defeating the purpose of TNKR.
What level of fluency in Korean is required of tutors?
Tutors are not required to know any Korean. Some refugees might specifically choose to be taught by a bilingual tutor due to their low English level, but in general we encourage full English immersion during study sessions.
Can we study using Skype?
If you are volunteering with Track 1, then no. We want our tutors and students to meet in person for their study sessions.
What if I want to teach only conversation/grammar/something specific that hasn’t been mentioned?
If there is a specific aspect of English or subject area you’d like to teach, let us know when you apply! We can communicate that to the refugees before the matching session. Some higher-level speakers simply want to practice their conversational skills, some want to study grammar intensively, and some want to study for a particular test or university major. There’s a chance that someone might be interested in the topic you’d like to teach, but be sure to let us know in advance.
How many refugees may I teach?
As many as you can handle! It depends entirely on how many refugees select you as their tutor. Make sure you’re clear about your schedule and availability from the beginning so that you don’t take on more work than you’re able to.
When and where are study sessions held?
Study sessions take place in Seoul, but where in the city is up to you and your student. Some people choose to meet at cafes, some at study centers, and some come up with other arrangements. You and your student will determine the time, place, and frequency of your meetings together, which is why we ask you to state your availability when you apply.
Don’t live in the city? That’s fine! You’re welcome to apply as long as you’re able to commute to Seoul at least twice a month to tutor.
What if my student keeps canceling?
Let us know. We will try to find a solution to the problem or switch matches, if necessary. The co-directors are involved in all written and electronic communication between students and tutors, and thus are typically aware of problems as they arise.
What if my student wants to quit?
Don’t let them give up easily. Some of the refugees need extra encouragement when their studies get difficult. If your student really wants to quit, tell us. We will sort out the details and set you up with a new match if need be.
What do the Academic Advisors do?
They keep tabs on every tutor-student pair we match. It is important for tutors to send the Advisors short reports on each study session in order to maintain good communication, give a better understanding of everyone’s needs, and allow us to deal with problems promptly if they arise. Please be responsive and answer the Advisors’ questions when asked.
What if I want to teach children rather than adults?
Ask Casey about the Mulmangcho (물망초) program! He will be happy to give you all the information you need.
I signed up, but there’s a waiting list. May I join the session anyway?
No, those still on the waiting list cannot attend matching sessions. If you have a group of friends who are all interested in volunteering, contact us with a few different dates and times, and we may be able to collaborate on a separate session.
I’m really interested in North Korean refugees. May I interview refugees about their personal stories during our meetings?
No. We understand that many teachers are curious about the refugees, but in most cases that curiosity isn’t relevant to your responsibilities as a volunteer tutor and could even potentially upset your student if the issue is pushed.
If you are a Track 2 tutor and your student is putting together a speech centered around his or her own story, or if your student personally volunteers information about themselves, then that is fine–but otherwise, we would ask you to set aside curiosity and focus solely on teaching.
I’m a returning tutor. Do I need to apply/send in my resume/attend orientation again?
Yes. We are constantly updating the program and there may be new regulations or procedures in place that weren’t there when you previously volunteered with us. Having everyone, including returning tutors, go through the same application and orientation process keeps our records accurate and ensures everyone is on the page.
How do tutors and refugees usually contact each other?
Through KakaoTalk. A group chat will be set up between the refugee and all of his or her tutors. This allows for tutors to coordinate teaching targets and also minimizes the likelihood that refugees will double-book study sessions.
Remember, you must include the co-directors in all written and electronic communication with the refugees–there is no need for you to have separate conversations with your students. If a refugee messages you privately, respond to them in the group chat and politely remind them that all messaging must take place there.
Why must the co-directors be included in all written and electronic communication with refugees?
There are many reasons, including: ensuring the refugees’ safety; avoiding misunderstandings; and preventing possible manipulation, socialization, or dating. Although we want our tutors and students to feel comfortable with one another, this program is intended only for learning English. Volunteers, refugees, and co-directors alike must all do their best to ensure that professional boundaries are not crossed and that the integrity of the project remains intact.
Can I get a certificate for teaching in this program?
If you are consistent with your updates, stay in touch with the co-directors and Academic Advisors, and we receive positive feedback from your students, then yes, we can give you a certificate or a letter of recommendation.
My spouse/significant other/friend would like to join the program with me. May we share a student or have group classes?
No. Study sessions are meant to be one-on-one in order to give the refugees the kind of individualized tutoring they need to improve their English. Please don’t combine study sessions with other tutors or refugees.
Besides volunteering as a tutor, what are some other things I can do to help TNKR?
We now expect every tutor to raise at least $100 for the organization during their time as a volunteer. You can do this by setting up a crowdfunding page, organizing a TNKR fundraising event, holding a bake sale, etc. Be sure to let Casey Lartigue know in advance and to include him in the planning process.
If you have any other special skills or interests, let us know and we might be interested in having you contribute to TNKR’s activities.
Track 2: Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between Track 1 and Track 2?
Track 1 is focused on improving the refugees’ English ability through personal tutoring, while Track 2 is focused on improving the refugees’ public speaking skills through one-on-one coaching.
What kind of public speaking do the refugees focus on?
Presentations for school, business, media, conferences, and advocacy.
What if I want to recruit students in this program to join public speaking clubs or organizations?
As stated previously, we don’t want volunteers joining TNKR with the intention of recruiting refugees for other groups, organizations, or activities–TNKR has its own unique approach to speech coaching, separate from that of other organizations.
If another organization would like to partner with us for the benefit of the refugees, we are open to that.
What if I want to arrange a speaking event with a refugee I coach?
That would be okay, but please let us know before you do. A key component of our program is that refugees should never feel pressure from a coach or tutor to engage in any activities they don’t want to. If the refugee, coach, and co-directors agree upon an arrangement, then such an event could be organized.
I’m a great writer. May I rewrite the speeches of refugees I coach?
No. Our program is centered around the idea that coaches assist speakers with structure, grammar, and tone, but never influence the content of the speech itself. We want to avoid even the appearance that coaches are putting words into the mouths of refugees, as that could harm the reputation of the program and undermine its core values.
What if I have an opportunity to help a refugee speak out by ghostwriting an article or speech?
Contact us with the details and we will evaluate whether that would be acceptable or not. We don’t want refugees to be mouthpieces fulfilling someone else’s agenda, but if a coach is merely helping them better express their own ideas then there might not be any harm in a little writing assistance. The key thing to remember is that the coach’s focus should be on helping refugees find their own voice, rather than adopting the coach’s voice for their own. Be patient, take a backseat, and allow your student to develop at their own pace.
What kind of English ability will my student have?
The English levels of refugees in our program range all the way from low to advanced, and there’s no way to tell what kind of ability you’ll be working with as a coach until after the matching session. Some refugees are unable to give polished speeches due to their lack of English ability but are brave enough to want to speak anyways, and we don’t want to discourage that kind of enthusiasm. Higher-level students might only need their coach to offer a few suggestions here or there. Your role as a coach is to assess what kind of support your student needs and then provide that.
If a refugee’s English level is so low that you are unable to help them, let us know. That particular refugee might need to be tutored in Track 1 to build the necessary language skills before attempting Track 2 again.
Where are coaching sessions held?
Unlike Track 1, Track 2 coaching sessions may be held either in person or via Skype. We encourage face-to-face meetings, but coaches and students are free to do as their schedules necessitate.
How do I apply?
Please fill out an application here!