2015-10-16 speech: Legacies of the Korean War at GMU (Korea)

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Yesterday I was one of the speakers at a special event at George Mason University’s campus in Seongdo (Korea). Charles Cousino, an 84-year-old Korean war veteran, discussed his connection to Korea. I discussed Teach North Korean Refugees. And North Korean refugee Sehyek Oh talked about what freedom means to him.

Special thanks to Roland Wilson and Michael Dunne for making it happen!

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2015-10-15 TNKR class visit: They really ignored me!

Very often when I visit TNKR tutoring sessions, I will tell the tutor and learn to ignore me. Thursday morning, it actually happened! They ignored me!
The class was from 9:30 am-12:30 pm. This particular duo has been meeting once a week, so this was their 8th session. Refugees and tutors are expected to meet twice a month, but as with this duo, many exceed that. I have heard about a few meeting two or three times a week.
What I liked about Amy’s class is that in addition to instant correction, she  led the learner to the answers without immediately telling her. She lets her work her way to the answer or the understanding of a particular text or word. Even though she is studying Korean these days, she did not use any in teaching (although, like a lot of expats and Korean language learners, she often says “Yes” in Korean).
I have a special feeling about particular refugee. Even though her English was not strong, she contacted me on Facebook months ago, asking if she could join TNKR. So it was so great to see her long vocabulary list she is studying, to watch her so eager to learn during class, and to see her celebrating herself whenever she understood something that had been a mystery just moments before!
It was a fun class, it was clear that they get along and enjoy the time they are studying and learning together. So much so that they ignored me pretty much for all 3 hours! I’m not complaining, because it gave me a chance to catch up on messages and to revise my PPT for a speech the following day…


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2015-10-14 “I’m so nervous”

Wednesday night, I dropped in on a TNKR class taught by one of our newest tutors. The class was from 6:40-8:40 pm, and it was definitely two hours of English! Sometimes when people read about TNKR, they may forget that the many tutors and coaches are VOLUNTEERS. They could be doing other things, such as making money engaging in private tutoring, meeting with friends, playing videos, or chit-chatting on social media. Instead, they are tutoring North Korean refugees or helping them in other ways.

Whereas many of the refugees welcome me to the classes, the young lady in the class the other day admitted she was nervous about me being there. It may be because there were two native speakers that she had to deal with at the same time. I prefer to think it is because I am such an impressive man that I took her breath her away. 🙂

But eventually she relaxed and even seemed to enjoy that I was also there. I do my best to attend as many classes as possible, although I am quite active and even busy some days.

A great thing about the classes is that the refugees start to realize, through practice, which things make sense and which things don’t. She wanted to read a book, but after reading it along with us, she began to realize it wasn’t interesting.

Stuart was correcting her pronunciation, helping her understand what she had read, then reviewing it together.

We have a constant issue in classes with tutors wanting to use Korean (even just simple phrases), but Stuart never did. Instead, he looked up photos on the Internet, drew pictures, or continued describing the word or context of the text until she understood.

The young lady said she was okay with me posting her photos, uncensored, but she is still  new in the program so I will wait until later to do so.

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2015-10-13 TNKR class visit: Aishling & Cherie

Yesterday was another busy day! In-house tutoring in the morning, interview with “Ask Ajumma,” speech, dinner, then I joined a class taught by Aishling.

I love going to these study sessions. One great thing about Aishling is that she is a focused and creative tutor. She didn’t  just go by the book in helping Cherie with her next assignment, she  also presented original ideas.

They met at 9 pm last night. It is another reminder of how great TNKR is! We have classes going on all around the city every day, in this case I joined classes from 10 am to 1 pm, then from 9 to 10 pm. So many volunteers give up so much of their time to North Korean refugees.

Aishling and Cherie clearly have hit it off, laughing and joking together, but it is within the focus of teaching and learning.

A great thing about Cherie is that she is coachable and eager to learn. She listens to what she is taught, she doesn’t pretend to understand when she doesn’t, she asks questions, and she keeps the class fun because of her delightful personality.

I’m not sure how happy they were about me joining, because they knew if meant one thing: Photos!

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2015-10-13 stories from the north, thanks James Milne!

Two TNKR Ambassadors spoke at a university in Seoul yesterday. It was a special occasion, for many reasons:

  • The event was organized by TNKR volunteer James Maxwell Milne. He organized it, raised money for it with a gofundme page, and also made a personal donation. In the future I will suggest this model to volunteers who want to organize speaking events for TNKR members.
  • Speakers Cherie Yang and Sharon Jang were wonderful! They both entered TNKR this year without public speaking experience. Cherie joined the program in January then gave her first speeches in February–in a speaking tour across the USA! Sharon joined in March–then her first speech was at the British embassy that was recorded by Al Jazeera. They are both getting better at presenting their stories.
  • The audience was engaged. Korean college students are known for sitting on their hands during Q&A. But yesterday they were asking many questions, in both English and Korean. A couple of the ladies in the audience were crying as they listened to Cherie and Sharon.
  • I even got a strong response from the audience. Korean college students are also known for only volunteering when they have no choice. But yesterday several students told me that they would like to join TNKR. I challenged them to gather together as a group so we could have a planning session to make it happen. I often make the point to NK NGO leaders and activists that instead of blaming Koreans for not getting involved, we may need to change our strategy to attract people.
  • TNKR tutor and coach Peter Daley joined us, yet again. He is now becoming a regular at our events!
  • I was so busy yesterday that I wasn’t checking my messages. 430 Kakao, 80 Facebook plus many emails. So today I need to follow up on many things…
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Continue reading 2015-10-13 stories from the north, thanks James Milne!

2015-10-13 Ask Ajumma!

According to their Facebook page: “Ask Ajumma is a virtual concierge service that can help you get the things you want in Korea. We can help save time, money and get the quality you want.

I bumped into them this morning, they did a quick interview.

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2015-10-12 New problem in TNKR!

Sometimes I avoid discussing challenges within TNKR because

  • Many people don’t read carefully
  • Many people who don’t read carefully will present one small challenge as being representative of the entire program.

One funny problem that has popped up:

1–A tutor doesn’t want to let her student go. We set up the in-house tutoring program so that tutors would get refugee learners on our waiting list prepared for studying in the regular matching program. It has gone very well. Some refugees have had their ears “opened” by studying with native and fluent English speakers. Others have expressed that they now feel confident to join the session after spending time 1 on 1 practicing English.

But the tutor now wants to adopt one of her students. The tutor traveled abroad, her student is planning on studying abroad. She sees her as going through some of the same challenges she went through, and wants to help guide her. So the tutor doesn’t want to let the student go, as she agreed when she started the program.

During orientation sessions with in-house tutors, I told them that they are like boot camp instructors, that they need to get the refugees ready for the next phase. But after a month of these sessions, I am now saying they must be like kindergarten or preschool teachers. Teach the basics, but let their babies go to the next teacher/class/level…


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2015-10-11 Fun, exciting and productive meeting!


Anyone who has ever worked with me knows how much I hate regularly scheduled meetings. I like it when meetings are held because they need to be held, not because it is time to meet. When I realize I am working with someone who loves meetings, then I immediately start being hostile to that person, so he or she will start holding meetings without telling me. Then we can both be happy!!!
But earlier today. Eunkoo and I participated in two meetings, including one secret one I can’t talk about. Then the second meeting we had was so good! We talked about so many things, but also it was talk that will lead to action.
Of course, it is easier to enjoy meetings when the owner (Aeran Lee) treats you to fantastic food! If that happened at work, I might even be able to endure long staff meetings!







2015-10-10 TNKR Open House

We had a great Open House earlier today with tutors who are interested in non-teaching opportunities with Teach North Korean Refugees. We have had several of these sessions, but I think I have a better idea how to run these sessions. The key thing will be following up on all of the wonderful things we discussed today.

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2015-10-09 TNKR tutor flies from Jeju to Seoul

Today is a holiday in Korea, but that didn’t mean that studying in Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) had a day off.  TNKR co-directors Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue joined a class by the tutor in TNKR who has won the “Came the Longest Distance” award. Afsha  flew from Jeju Island to Seoul to tutor one of the learners in TNKR.

The only way anyone will be able to top her will be if the person flies from a different country!

Her student today has been in our program for several months, all of his tutors talk about what a great student he is! Focused, friendly, eager to learn.


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