2015-10-27 The waiting list has a waiting list…

We have had 190 refugees enter TNKR since we began in March 2013. We now have 50 refugees on the waiting list to join the program. So we began in-house tutoring to help those refugees on on the waiting list to study English before joining an English Matching session.

We now have a waiting list for the in-house tutoring program. Later, we will sign up more tutors, but first we need the first tutors in our program to help us design it well.

The newest student was really eager to meet me! I am always pleased when they already know who I am.^^

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2015-10-27 Sharon at Sungkyungkwan University

Teach North Korean Refugees Ambassador Sharon spoke earlier today at Sungkyungkwon University. We have suddenly had several speaking opportunities, arranged by volunteers in TNKR.

  • Dead men can ask questions: Sharon spoke in Korean today, so it meant she could tell her story in more detail. A few of the students remarked that it was the first time they had concentrated that hard in class. The students, a mix of international and South Koreans, had many questions during Q&A. Korean students are known for being bumps-on-a-log during Q&A, but they had many questions today. That means: If you present something interesting or different, even Korean students can rise from the dead…
  • Click your heels three times: So often people ask me how they can help. I count to 10 before answering. Then I meet others who just do it. They read, listen, observe, then come up with something to do. Today’s event was set up by international students who visited my office last month. Rorry and Maaike set up the event, the first of two, by finding professors willing to accept us (many think the words “North Korea” are automatically political and avoid anything to do with it). So many people want to save the world, looking for the BIG THING that requires the UN to get involved, rather than doing what they can do with the resources they have.  Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something. These days, when people ask what they do, I tell them to pretend they are Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz–click your heels three times, the power is within you…
  • They laughed, they cried… Last week, the translator cried during Sharon’s speech. Today, Ingue Chun almost had the crowd in tears, with his humorous translation performance. I won’t mention details, to protect his reputation as a translator.^^
Rorry adds:

So happy and proud to have finally brought TNKR to SKKU to educate & raise awareness among the students with Maaike‘s valuable contribution. Big thanks to our professor Lee for the generous donation & being a kind host. I can’t wait for the next two events of TNKR involving international students and SKKU!

PS: if you are interested in volunteering, come to our open house event for international students next Thursday, 8pm, Itaewon smile emoticon

Thank you Casey Lartigue for your support and this well written post. Thank you Sharon for your informative and interesting speech. Thank you Ingue for your entertaining translation. & last but not least. Thank you Maaike for being a lovely and committed team partner!

 Ingue Chun writes:

This day was a good day with Casey Lartigue Sharon Jang Rorry Ambers Late and Maaike. We helped raise awareness of the hardships North Korean Refugees go through to young Korean students.
Big shout out to all who helped organize and I thank them for having me! ^^

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2015-10-23 Third Level of Leadership

I recently wrote in my Korea Times column about Leonard Read saying that those advocating for liberty need to reach the “Third Level of Leadership.” That’s the level when you have people seeking your counsel.

There are many people in the North Korean field. Some are researchers, authors, analysts, activists, organizers, etc. There are some in the field who have many people seeking them out, some are sought out by media, others are trolls with blogs.

Is there anyone seeking you out? Are there people who want to talk to you about their dreams and futures? Are there people who want to meet you because they think you are someone special or interesting? Are there others who want to join with your work or purpose in life?


2015-10-22 Even the translator cried!^^ TNKR at Osan Air Force

Teach North Korean Refugees presented today at the Osan Air Force Base to an overflow crowd of at least 500 air force personnel and spouses.

  • One speaker delivered his talk in English, another speaker spoke in Korean. It was quite a sight to see the translator lose his composure while he was translating. Then I looked in the audience, and many of those tough soldiers were also crying.
  • Getting it done! An awesome lieutenant got this done. Many people talk about arranging events for us, then, nothing happens, or we keep talking. The first time was slightly smaller scale, maybe 150 to 200 attendees. But today, it was an overflow crowd, at least 500, plus some high-ranking people joined us.
  • Many people came over to thank me for TNKR presenting their stories. They are military people, so they appreciated hearing the human side about North Korea, about the people inside the country, about their escapes and adjustment.
  • For our speaker who was in the North Korean military, he admitted that was a bit nervous looking at all of those U.S. military people. He had been taught in North Korea that he must try to kill U.S. soldiers anytime he saw them. But he met the “enemy” today, and they were friendly, respectful, gave him congratulations, and even gave huge gift baskets to both of the speakers.
  • * If he is ever questioned by North Korea about the event:

Q: Comrade! Is it true that you gave a speech before the enemy US soldiers? I hope you showed them no mercy.
A: Yes! I made them cry, that’s how tough I was.
Q: Then what happened next?
A: Oh… they applauded me, hugged me, and gave me gifts… But I made them cry, I promise…

  • After the speeches, we joined them at a casual discussion over pizza and soft drinks. So many people wanted to talk with our two speakers today, take photos with them, and also asked me how they could volunteer for TNKR. I recommended a couple of things, and they are military people, so one thing they apparently believe in is following up, getting it done!
  • I will post more photos, I will need to mosaic them first..

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2015-10-21 Rachel Stine speech to SIWA

I attended–and ended up participating in–Rachel Stine’s speech to the Seoul International Women’s Association this morning. Rachel gave a great speech about helping North Korean refugees. People in the room clearly were inspired by her speech today and her action the last six years for North Korean refugees.

They followed up later on to ask many questions.

Rachel, a former tutor in TNKR, referred to TNKR very often during her speech, so I eventually joined her on stage to explain a few things. But she was the invited speaker, so I refrained from filibustering. 🙂

I met many great people, it seems that TNKR may have some new volunteers and supporters.

Special thanks to former TNKR tutor Renee Cummins for inviting me to the event.


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2015-10-20 Sharon Jang at Shin & Kim law firm

Last August, Sharon Jang was one of the speakers at the second (TNKR) Teach North Korean Refugees English speech contest. We held the contest in conjunction with the Shin & Kim law firm. Today Sharon returned to give a speech to the lawyers and employees at the law firm.

It was a nice and touching event. Some of the young ladies seemed to be mesmerized by Sharon’s speech.

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Sharon profiled by the Daily Mail (UK)

TNKR English Speech Contest
August 22, 2015

TNKR year-end celebration (at Shin & Kim building)

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2015-10-19 What a day!!!!

When we first started the in-house tutoring program for refugees on the TNKR waiting list, I said that the tutors need to be like boot camp instructors getting refugees ready for the regular matching program.

But now it is more like kindergarten. The tutors and refugees don’t want to say goodbye!  But it was goodbye for a pair that really hit it off. It helps that they are both so sweet and lovely. So I guess it was natural that it would happen!

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I had to leave early for another meeting so I couldn’t stay until the end of the second in-house tutoring session. The young man in this class is always on time, early, in fact! He is at the ABC level. I can see that he really wants to learn. He is still on the waiting list, so unless several refugees cancel, he will be in the in-house tutoring program until at least November.

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One of our in-house tutors didn’t have anyone to tutor today because they are studying hard for their mid-term exams. But Justin still wanted to help out. So he joined me at the Freedom Factory office! His big task: Call the refugees joining the Matching session this Saturday. The English levels of the refugees range from ABC to high intermediate. So there was a lot of comedy in the discussions as Justin asked them several questions to help them get psychologically prepared for the matching session.

Of the 10 refugees scheduled to join us, 7 of them went through the in-house tutoring session. So we feel closer to them, we have a better idea of their language levels, and they have thought about their learning goals.

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* * *

For a few days now a contact has been chasing me, trying to have a meeting with me. We sat down to talk tonight, and what she said has the potential to make some really really big changes in TNKR…

Stay tuned, big announcement coming soon if our plan comes together…


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Leaving the restaurant, I heard my name being called. Of course, that means we need to take a photo together!


2015-10-17 TNKR–3 orientations, 6 hours

TNKR had three orientation sessions yesterday, from noon to 6 pm.

  • Session 1 had 16 tutors, mainly with tutors  who will be at the October 24 Matching session with 10 refugees ( 8 newcomers, 2 returnees).
  • Session 2 had 13 tutors who will be at the October 31 Re-Matching session with 7 refugees returning to the program.
  • Session 3 had 8 refugees who will be joining on Oct 24 (6 of them went through our new in-house tutoring program we launched last month).

Some notable things:

  • Some of the most common questions we are asked about TNKR: “How do find refugees?” My response: “We don’t. They find us.”  A related question: “How do refugees find you?” Based on yesterday: “Referrals.” All eight refugees at yesterday’s orientation were referred to the program by current or previous students. When we first started TNKR in March 2013, we did search, but not now. We have a waiting list of 50 refugees.
  • One of the refugees said that she wants to work for TNKR. She was praising us so much, saying that 1) she can’t believe we don’t charge refugees anything 2) we should market more so every refugee can join, to which I said “no, we do this as volunteers.” 3) she hopes she can work with TNKR so we can help even more people.
  • Assuming they all make it to the upcoming matching sessions, 29 new tutors will be joining the program. They are from all over the world (USA, South Korea, England, Canada, Canada/Scotland, Germany/Netherlands, Australia). In addition, they are coming in from all around Korea (Wonju, Gongju, Gunpo, Sangju, Bundang, Gimcheon, Gangseo, Suji, Suwon).
  • Of course, we worry about the political ones or researchers with an agenda, but it seems that most of them are teachers who just want to contribute their time.
  • We had many lovely comments from tutors. Several said they are fans of the program, some even expressed great admiration for the co-founders. One said that she loves how everything is in “black and white.” Communication is a key part of the program. for several months now we have been using Kakao to communicate, it has made the program much better. It is harder for tutors or refugees to hide from us, although some insist on having side conversations without us. By having a refugee in a Kakao group with all of his/her tutors and the co-directors means we all know what is going on, and it is a team effort.
  • Several of the tutors also said they are eager to teach adults who are motivated to learn.  But a few did express concerns about whether or not they would be chosen. In two years, we have had only 2 (out of 280) tutors who did not get picked.  So we encourage the tutors to focus on what they can do rather than mentioning what they can’t do.
  • At the end, the refugees were asking questions about me. Some had heard about me because of some of my other activities with refugees, but they wanted to know more about me. So I popped in my ppt showing my various activities over the years. It is then that they understand that I am devoted to freedom, opportunity and individual autonomy. I should not be surprised that they want to know about me, but it surprises me every time.
  • Winding down, Eunkoo and I realized how crazy it was that we had six hours of orientations on a Saturday. So I suggested to her that we should take the day off. Of course, even Sunday morning, we are getting many messages and requests, and I’m writing this…
  • When we first started TNKR, we had orientation and matching sessions the same day. And we tried to squeeze them both into two hours. After a while, we decided to divide them in half. We will never go back to doing it the way we had before. We meet the tutors in advance, we give them time to ask questions, we get to hear their questions and comments..

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