One of the best things about TNKR is when eager students find us. Some complain, despite meeting many government officials and counselors, that no one told them about TNKR. Some even complain when they learn that friends have quietly been studying with us for years, but never told them about us.

Eunkoo Lee and I interview newbies to get them prepared for studying in TNKR (and to remind returnees that the rules still apply). We make it clear to newbies that TNKR is a self-study program, they can’t passively wait for the teacher to do everything. For some, it is a challenge, they aren’t sure how to study English. Some have their books and study materials with them. And some others are wondering when they can start!!!!

If my math is correct, Eunkoo Lee and I did about 8 hours of interviews with North Korean refugees last week.


Then of course, there is the actual tutoring! The Teaching Machine has been at it again, teaching all refugees who come to our office.

TNKR Staff Leaders

You can expect a burst of activity from TNKR in the coming months. Many people may be going on vacation, but we should be more active.

The reason: We now have coordinators leading up Tracks 1 and 2. Janice Kim has been leading Track 1 for quite a while now. Vimbiso Kombora is now the Coordinator for Track 2. Daniel James has joined as an adviser to volunteers.

Because of them, I can focus on other parts of TNKR, or even skip out on orientation sessions. May is always a tough month for recruiting volunteers, a combination of holidays and people traveling because of 3 or 4 day weekends. So we held many orientation sessions this month. If we have someone emerge to lead up the International Volunteer Leadership Academy, then I will be able to focus on developing a new part of TNKR that I have had in mind for quite a while.

From Brown to North Korea

Saturday night, I gave a lecture at a round table discussion to mark the 65th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Unfortunately, I did additional research before the speech, meaning it got longer rather than shorter.

I’m surprised anyone showed up. Civil rights activist Howard Fuller once mentioned in one of our meetings, “If you plan a meeting for 100 people, but only three people show up, you have three people to work with.” I have agreed with that philosophy for years, because after all the handful who show up are probably the most energetic who won’t get in the shuffle of many people who will move on after the event. But when it seems that only three people will show up? Damn.

It isn’t a hip topic, sounds more like an 11th grade history lecture right after lunch. I confirmed that Eunkoo Lee would show up, then committed that I would give the speech no matter how many people showed up. When cancellations started coming in, oh no…

But thanks to everyone who did show up. I talked about the context of Brown and why it is so important, then mentioned some lessons. I tried to be careful not to draw parallels, those usually fail as soon as someone points out a difference. There are lessons that can be learned in terms of reality rather than good feelings, incentives rather than desires.

Get out of the office

At least once a week, we need to get out of the office to meet people. It was great catching up with Steven, one of our newest monthly donors. I have known him for several years, he also supported the Mulmangcho School when I was the International Cooperation Adviser.

We had a few other meetings last week that were not photo friendly.

Around the office

A few whiners on Facebook have complained over the years about me being in many of the TNKR photos. I would take photos more often, but it seems that I’m the only one within TNKR who enjoys taking photos marking our many wonderful moments. I told one of the whiners:

A) Do you realize how many shy people there are in the world who don’t want to be featured in photos and that

B) many people would get angry at me if I said, “Let’s take a photo,” then excused myself from it???

C) Oh, and I unfriended/blocked them.

Around the office and in much of TNKR leadership, we have shy people who want to help, but don’t necessarily want to be featured. So I don’t take many photos around the office, the staffers and volunteers might start to feel like they are in a photo museum with their Uncle Casey documenting their every move.

But yes, I did get a photo of Youngmin and Hyunho trying to figure out how to set up the fax machine purchased by Sharon.

Lovely Sharon

She has been a student with TNKR since March 2015, she was the first refugee to contact me directly online via Facebook, seeking to study English. Four years later, she is still with us. She brought a cake for Teacher’s Day.

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