TNKR is getting ready today for Matching session #86. We began this little hobby back in 2013, became an official organization in 2016. We have 8 refugees signed up to choose among more than a dozen tutors.

The session starts at 2 pm.

The first student arrived at 9:10 am.

Yes, almost five hours in advance. That’s because students get to choose tutors based on the time the students arrive at our office to register the day of the Matching session. They have had an initial interview, orientation, and now it is Matching day!

The first student was thrilled when she learned that she was first!

Before we had our own office and were relying on others for meeting space, we typically could not show up more than 2 hours in advance. But after we got our own office, refugees could show up at any time. And they began to do so. One refugee called at midnight, asking if she could register early. So I met her at the TNKR office at 1:10 am, she signed in at 1:15 am. We have had some other students ask/threaten to stay at our office overnight so they can choose first.

We began telling refugees not to show up before 9 am!

We still call it “Matching,” which is a relic of the way we held our first session, with TNKR staff matching the refugees. Ever since then, it has been based on refugees choosing. The “match” these days refers to good matches–availability (day, time, place), refugees reasons for wanting to learn English to be matched with the preferred teaching interests of tutors.

Many many moons ago, when I was in graduate school at Harvard, I used to confidently tell my peers that programs need to be designed so that beneficiaries and participants have power to choose, that feedback mechanisms need to be set up on people’s actions, not their words! That’s true with TNKR, because refugees get to choose their tutors and they have the power to unchoose tutors if the matches aren’t good or tutors are more concerned with being buddies, hanging out, or doing research on them.

We occasionally have larger organizations asking us to send refugees to them, to justify their big budgets and projects that refugees apparently don’t really want. I constantly have people recommending to me workshops and ideas that refugees don’t ask for. When we mention those ideas to refugees, we see that most aren’t really interested. So I suggest to people that they set up their own organizations, and see if refugees will show up hours in advance!

I should return for an alumni reunion so I can tell my former Harvard classmates: “Told ya so!”


PayPal is a great way to support TNKR.

TNKR is getting ready today for Matching session #86. We have 8 refugees signed up to choose among more than a dozen tutors.The session starts at 2 pm, the first student arrived at 9:10 am

On December 8 in Seoul, five women from four different countries delivered speeches at TEDxDongdaemunWomen. They were understandably nervous: They are all second or third language speakers of English. None of them are professional speakers, so this was a diversion from their daily lives.

  • It was a beautiful scene. Numerous TNKR volunteers were on hand to support a TNKR student giving her first TEDx speech.
  • TNKR collaborating with a TEDx organizer to put together an event.
  • The TNKR co-founder being asked to be the MC of a TEDx event.

So how did it all come together?

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This morning I received a notification that TNKR summer volunteer Julie Schuldt had held a Zumbathon at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. It is stunning to look at photos of people jumping around, in the effort to raise money for TNKR!

When Eunkoo Lee and I started TNKR in March 2013, we didn’t have long-term plans. We just thought it would be great to connect North Korean refugees with volunteer tutors who could help them improve their English. More than three years later, we have an organization we can be really proud of, knowing that so many refugees respect what we are doing. We have had more than 450 volunteers join TNKR over the last few years. We are so delighted to have so many people give so much of their time to help refugee learners in our humble project.

Julie was a volunteer with us during the summer, mainly helping with writing. She has remained in contact, letting us know how much she admires TNKR. I tell all volunteers to use their skills and interests to help TNKR. If you’re great at Social Media, do that with us! You want to market something to the world? Take on TNKR as a project! Great at (or want to try) fundraising? Use TNKR as an opportunity to take an organization out of poverty! If you like to exercise? Yes, hold a Zumbathon, as Julie did!

I’m not exactly sure what Zumba is, I have never tried it, but looking at the photos, I would have loved being there.

Julie is back in the USA, she could have chosen many worthy organizations around the world–she chose TNKR! Now many people who would have never heard of us have raised money for TNKR. It is one of those wonderful moments I would have never imagined when Eunkoo Lee and I started TNKR in 2013.



See below for more photos and the German translation by Juliana

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As of August 2016, Teach North Korean Refugees and The Korea Times have been partners. Today we had a meeting to discuss ways we can work together more closely in the future. Best of all, we came out of it with one clear action item and a better understanding about their expectations.

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One of our newest volunteers is Karin Hanna. We have some potential volunteers who talk about how much they would like to volunteer–Karin cuts directly to the action. She read about TNKR, went through our entire website, watched videos, and thought about ways she could help.

One way: translate about TNKR into German.

PDF: Vorstellung und Beschreibung der TNKR Organisation

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TNKR(Teach North Korean Refugees) English Contest에 여러분을 초대합니다. 현재 TNKR은 일반영어(회사, 공부, 여행 등) 공부를 할 수 있도록 기회를 제공하는 Track 1(Finding My Own Way)과 본인의 이야기를 영어로 이야기할 수 있도록 도움을 주는 Track 2(Telling My Own Story) 를 진행하고 있습니다. 현재까지 150여명의 북한분 들과 200여명의 선생님들이 TNKR에 참여하였습니다.

그리고, 2015년 8월 English speech Contest로 여러분을 만나고자 합니다. TNKR을 통해 향상된 여러분의 영어실력을 English speech Contest로 발휘해 보시기 바랍니다. 또한 콘테스트 준비를 위해 TNKR 에서 만난 선생님들 및 코치선생님들과 준비하실 수 있습니다.

그리고 이번 TNKR English Speech Contest 는 법무법인 세종과 공동주최로 개최됩니다. 관심있는 많은 분들의 참여 기대합니다.

  • 참여대상자(Participators):                                                                                   현재 한국에 거주하고 있고, TNKR에 한번이라도 참여하였던 북한 분들 누구나 (단, 2015년 6월 TNKR 매칭에 참여한 학생까지 참여가능)
  • 일정(Schedule)
  • Step 1                                                                                                                                    ① 참가 신청서 (TNKR English Speech Contest application)및 영어스피치 동영상 제출(5분) (1-2분 자기소개 포함)

          영어 스피치 주제: “What freedom means to me”

② 제출마감일: 2015년 7월 1일(수요일) 오후 6시까지

③ 제출방법:

  • Step 2 

① 7명의 최종결선자  발표

② 1차 발표: 2015년 7월 10일(금요일), 개별연락

  • Step 3                                                                                                                       

   English Speech Contest: 직접 영어로  말하기 (10분)

일시: 2015년 8월 22일(토) 14:00- 16:00                                                 

  –장소: 법무세종(Shin& Kim) 강당                                                                   

* 영어 스피치 대회는 관객들 앞에서 진행됩니다.

  • 시상내역(Rewards)

★ 1등(1명): 100만원 상금

★ 2등(1명): 50만원 상금

★ 3등(1명): 20만원 상금

★ 장려상(4명): 10만원 상금

  • 문의 (Contact)

– 궁금하신 분들은

Casey Lartigue (English)

Eunkoo Lee (Korean)

phone: 070-4006-0942

<제1회 TNKR English Speech Contest>

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Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), in conjunction with the law firm Shin & Kim, will be holding its second English speech contest in Seoul on August 22 from 2-4 pm.

Seven North Korean refugees will each have up to 10 minutes to address the question, “What freedom means to me.” Participants will prepare and deliver original speeches in English.

Participants are encouraged to prepare with volunteer coaches and tutors in Teach North Korean Refugees. For many of the contestants, it will be their first time to give public speeches in English.

The contest is open to all North Korean refugees who currently or have previously lived in South Korea and who have joined TNKR by June 20. The final contestants will be chosen from a pool of applicants who will be asked to submit a video.

First prize: 1 million won.

Second prize: 500,000 won.

Third prize: 200,000 won.

Honorable mention: 100,000 won each.

The contest will be held at the Shin & Kim office in Seoul.

North Korean Defectors Learn English to Communicate

Volunteers to hold meeting for NK refugee program By John Redmond

The co-founders of the Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) program invite volunteers who wish to learn more about the project to a meeting in Yeouido, Seoul, May 6.

“We have had so many people ask how they can help,” the group’s website says.

“TNKR will be meeting with interested volunteers who would like to find out about what we are doing, and would like to find a way to get involved.”

Volunteers are asked not to show up expecting to be assigned tasks, but “come with your thinking cap on, use your brain to find your own role.”

Normally held on Saturdays, this session is to reach those with weekend schedule conflicts.

The non-political and non-religious humanitarian organization focuses on providing assistance to those who have escaped North Korea.

“The primary focus of TNKR has been to provide English learning opportunities to refugees and to provide them with more options for determining their place in society. All tutors involved in the project are volunteers, and there is no cost for the refugees,” the Web page states.

TNKR provides two different tracks for refugees to choose to join and is a learner-focused project which encourages them to take charge of the way they learn and improve.

“Every refugee is given the choice of what direction their language learning will take by deciding upon their own study goals and selecting their own tutors.”

The meeting will take place at the Songu building from 7:15 p.m.

To get there leave the National Assembly Station on subway line 9 at exit 3 or 2 and make a U-turn. Walk between the KB bank buildings. As you reach the street it will be the building slightly to the right. The meeting will be in Room 805. For those who get lost, the office number is 070-4115-9600.

Please take the regular train and not the express train. The express train passes the National Assembly Station.

For more information visit or the Facebook page


The Teach North Korean Refugees project featured on MBC-Daejeon and MBC-Seoul.

북한이탈주민을 보듬기 위한
우리 사회의 노력을 전하는 연속보도,
마지막 순서입니다.

북한이탈주민들이 우리 사회에 적응할 때
대부분 자신감 부족으로 어려움을 겪는데요.

이들에게 무료로 영어를 가르치며
자신감을 키워주는 외국인 봉사 단체가


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Last November, one of our volunteer tutors made a big mistake: She suggested a way she could help the Teach North Korean Refugees project have smoother English Matching sessions.

It wasn’t long before Suzanne Atwill Stewart had become such an important part of TNKR that we couldn’t remember what it was like before she joined us.

Ah, but what was going to be her title? We initially disagreed–she was happy to be our secretary, I wanted to name her “Special Assistant.”

Well, a few days ago, she got upgraded: Operations Manager. That accurately describes what she does with TNKR. I am a generous guy, so I doubled her pay. Let’s see, what is 0 x 2? When that didn’t seem to be enough, I instead tripled her pay. Yes, 0 x 3.

She is a volunteer Operations Manager, but she takes it so seriously. She stopped by my office today with her long to-do-list of items, and did her best to give me some assignments (HA!). She actually tracks what I say, reminds me of it, then follows up like a gentle stalker.

And… she has made it clear to me that I must set aside time each week to meet with her, to discuss my many ideas, so that she and Eunkoo (co-director) can turn those ideas into reality–in an organized way…

The other TNKR internal change: Cherie Yang joined TNKR recently, but she has already had a great impact. First was our mini-speaking tour in the USA as her introduction to public speaking. She took on the challenge with very little prep. In just five weeks, she has given her first seven speeches in English.

She is one of the members of TNKR, I think she has five or six coaches and tutors that she meets and talks with weekly. She is really focused on studying, learning, enjoys being corrected and learning new things.

But the other thing that she has done: She recruits other North Korean refugees to our project and praises our project without us having to ask her.

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