In this post:

  • Interviewing NK refugees
  • Welcoming visitors to TNKR
  • Tutors
  • Project with the US Embassy
  • Otto Warmbier Memorial
  • Harvard University Alumni Happy Hour

The sizzle: TNKR’s public speaking program attracts researchers, media, volunteers, fans and enemies. That is a small part of what we do, but it attracts the most attention.

The steak: meetings, tutoring, planning meetings, orientation sessions.

The sizzle is great, it is the thing that interests people. The heart of TNKR, however, is the many things that go on when we are not having public events with refugee speakers.

We have had another busy week of meetings, planning and organizing. Today we had two more interviews with North Korean refugees joining TNKR, a meeting with university administrators who would like to continue sending volunteer tutors to TNKR, I then spoke at a memorial marking the second anniversary of the death of Otto Wamblier, then wrapped up the day by attending a Harvard alumni Happy Hour.

They aren’t glamorous, but the meetings welcoming refugees to TNKR are really important. They need to have a clear understanding of our expectations, and those who have been with us before can help us tweak things (while also getting reminders about the proper way to be a TNKR student).

We had another student come in who is at the ABC level. We are now showing them the Matching session video as shown in a cable TV special about TNKR, although not everything there is accurate because of things shaped by the cameras in the room

One student who came to us didn’t really understand the program and was surprised that he was expected to come to class prepared with something. We encouraged him to look into other programs, they could teach him the way he was expecting. By the end of the meeting, he began to catch on that it would be up to him to make it happen. The concept had never crossed his mind.

Another student was at the opposite extreme. She has watched our YouTube videos, read numerous articles about us, heard from friends about TNKR. It seems that she is one of my fans, she already knew so much about me, she wanted a photo with me after the interview was over.

These initial interviews are really important. We need to make it clear that we are not a language institute teaching them according to what we feel is best, that they will need to take the initiative.


We also try to set aside time to meet visitors. We are not the kind of place to have people drop-in, it is important to make an appointment in advance, and not to be late. We have meetings going on, refugee interviews, tutoring sessions, meetings, and we don’t have a waiting room.

We had a great honest meeting with university staff, they had arranged for some of their students to tutor in TNKR. We were able to evaluate the pros and the cons.

Another great meeting was with fans who are really interested in helping TNKR grow. Some of their comments were really touching.

We also had a three hour meeting with visitors from the USA, they had many questions. They are professional educators and academics, so they might not have liked everything they heard because we do go against the tide in the education field. I’m sure they can see, however, that we have thought through the process and truly based our approach based on feedback from refugees and what we have observed.

Another long meeting was with a volunteer who is doing research about North Korean refugees. She has been following our process, so it is still all smiles.


Naturally, most of the focus in TNKR is on North Korean refugees, that’s why we are all gathered in this humble little organization.

TNKR could not survive however without volunteers giving their time. And of course we especially appreciate those volunteers who take the time and make an effort to raise some money for TNKR.

Minwoo Kim has been with TNKR for two years, he has raised more than 1 million won. He stopped by to talk and also to pick up a signed copy of Sungju Lee’s “Every Falling Star.”

Cassy is another volunteer who has brought a lot of energy. She wanted more tutoring, so she is now tutoring in our office in addition to tutoring refugees in our main Track 1 English tutoring program.

Project with the US Embassy

TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee is in charge of a project that TNKR has in collaboration with the US Embassy. Wow, that is definitely the sizzle. When I posted a photo from a US Embassy event, I had several people message me separately about it wanting to learn more about it and some wanted to know if they could get involved with it.

Eunkoo recently did hire two team members, one teacher and one intern to help with the project.

Otto Warmbier Memorial

I was honored to be invited to speak at a memorial for Otto Warmbier, the young American tourist who was tortured by North Korean agents then later died after going into a coma two years ago.

Harvard Alumni Happy Hour

After attending the memorial, it was nice to get away to a Harvard Alumni Happy Hour. It was incredible, at a few of the tables, the talk was all about TNKR.

A few of the attendees have been admitted to Harvard and will be attending from September, so if TNKR is able to pull off an event we are planning, then I will be seeing a few of them in Cambridge later this year.

Back when I was at Harvard, I remember the first people I met, some of them were really generous. I hope the students starting Harvard in September will remember me the way I remember the people who were so helpful to me.

Tomorrow: TNKR’s co-founders will be headed to Busan for a few meetings.

Support TNKR: This is definitely the steak of TNKR, no sizzle here.