In the last four days, the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR) had three different events with eight speeches by six different refugees.

  • Event 1, 2019-06-14, Friday with a group of teachers visiting from the USA.
  • Event 2, 2019-06-15, Saturday with South Korean high school students.
  • Event 3, 2019-06-17, Monday with American high school students visiting Korea.

2019-06-14, with teachers visiting from the USA.


The speakers joined TNKR in 2014 (1), 2015 (2), 2017 (1) and 2018 (1). Because all of them are high level speakers of English, they were able to interact in English, mixing seriousness, humor, drama, analysis. One moment, audience members were laughing, another moment they were crying, another moment thinking deeply about many things.

Each event felt a talk show, with each speaker giving a speech, then Q&A with the audience, and mixing it up with each other too! But it was all loving.

The faculty really enjoyed it on Friday, they asked some thoughtful questions, and the refugees gave some thoughtful answers.


2019-06-15, with South Korean high school students.


I wrote a separate post about the event hosted by high school students on Saturday.


2019-06-17, with American high school students visiting Korea.


Then after the International Volunteer Leadership Academy session on Sunday, we returned on Monday with another panel discussion featuring three NK refugees.


A process, not a snapshot


When I mention on Facebook that TNKR will hold an event with North Korean refugee speakers, the response from some enthusiastic fans: “Live stream it!”

When I mention that North Korean refugees in our program have given a speech, the delightful response: “Upload the video!”

For marketing and fundraising purposes, that would be a great idea. There are a couple of reasons, however, I am never in a hurry to do so:

  • I see events with visitors to our office and many of our public events as practice speaking opportunities for the refugees.
  • They get to practice with an audience visiting our turf, so they are comfortable.
  • If we let them know the speeches will be uploaded, then it would an unnecessary level of stress as they master the art of public speaking.
  • They can hear some of the common questions that get asked by people from around the world, so they learn to prepare more comprehensive responses and deeper analysis. This prepares them for future presentations.
  • I have over the years heard from several refugees that they regret some of the speeches they gave before studying with us. They hadn’t been prepared, just got on stage or in the corner of a coffee shop and gave a speech. They could see how unprepared they had been, that their speeches had not been good and that they hadn’t given thought to the issues they discussed.
  • In some cases with events I have seen hosted by other organizations, I doubted if the refugees really grasped the words and concepts that had been planted in their speeches by well-meaning people. We do our best to discourage tutors and mentors from putting their own words in speeches by refugees, we want the speeches to be as authentic as possible through the experiences and growth of refugees.
  • They don’t get overexposed with too many of their speeches and discussions online before they are ready and don’t won’t have their early stumbles online. Some people are looking for videos to click click click, and are easily bored with the same refugee story, and are just clicking clicking their boredom away through Facebook or YouTube.
  • We occasionally get mentioned in videos by apologists and sympathizers of the North Korean regime, so we never rush refugees to the international stage. When they are ready, they can’t be stopped.
  • For many audience members, they “KNOW” the refugee’s story based on seeing their speeches. It is like a snapshot for them. But like most humans, refugees can give deeper and fuller presentations a few years after first starting. A speech delivered by a North Korean refugee who has just arrived will be different from a speech delivered by a North Korean refugee who has been in South Korea for six years. And a refugee who gave a speech in 2015 will give a different speech today. It is the human difference, for example, as your understanding at reading a book at age 16 compared to age 46. You’re the same person, but also a different human being. North Korea watchers as well as reporters and researchers will analyze each speech by a refugee as a snapshot, probing and analyzing each word from their ivory towers or favorite coffee shops.
  • I would like each speaker to develop his or her own approach, in terms of deciding when or if they want to give public speeches routinely, try to write a book, or just stop at giving practice speeches with audiences that find us. This is a great chance for them to experiment with public speaking without Facebook Live capturing their initial stumbles and development.
  • So after practice, practice, practice, numerous opportunities to prepare speeches with speech coach mentors and before live and supportive audiences, and after having many times to reflect on questions they are asked and getting to see other speakers, I hope they will then be ready to go whichever way they want when it comes to public speaking.
  • Plus, I’m there to shut down stupid questioners and people with no common sense, hopefully to send the message to speakers that they aren’t obligated to answer every question coming their way from audience members, reporters, researchers and others.

I appreciate the hunger of our fans to see more videos, as an organization we could probably develop a much more robust YouTube channel, but as co-founder, international director, and the architect of TNKR’s approach, I must consider things. So I hope our adoring fans will recognize that there are reasons that I’m not in a hurry to upload videos or to livestream speeches.

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