Category Archives: TNKR

2016-03-22 “Top Secret” Korea Times column


Top Secret


2016-03-21 : 16:19

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Back in 2007 when I launched a radio talk show, I predicted that I wouldn’t get major media coverage until there was a problem. After I got fired from the show in a dispute with management, I was proven correct. I got a long article published in the Washington Post, several national media invitations, mentioned in a book about conspiracy theories, and later became a regular commentator on a National Public Radio show.

While it might have seemed great to get that attention, I didn’t enjoy being known for getting fired from a talk show. Friends who remembered my prediction thought it was amazing that I had guessed in advance what would happen, but like a broken clock, I make that kind of prediction all of the time. Do something to slightly improve the world, and a reporter may stumble upon you every once in a while. Get caught in a scandal or crime, and you can have reporters surrounding your home, taking photos as you walk from your front door to check the mail or do sit-ups in your garage. Whether you are the shooter or the target, a reporter will want to talk to you.

I have been engaged in activism on North Korean issues for a few years. At the beginning, I predicted that I wouldn’t get major news coverage until I got caught up in a scandal. No scandals yet, although I have had some reporters snooping around when they thought some of my colleagues had done something wrong.

Every time a reporter stumbles upon my activities helping North Korean refugees, I thank them. Certainly there were scandals, murders, earthquakes, K-pop and other stories that would have generated more clicks. Then I pretty much say goodbye, recognizing that they will never write about my activities again.

It might be a cynical point of view, but in order to understand reporters, think about a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat at a birthday party for kids. Imagine the magician demonstrating to the kids how he did it. Then imagine the magician asking the kids, “Do you want me to pull the rabbit out of the hat again?” The kids, like reporters, want to see something different, something “new.” That’s why I say the best way to get a reporter curious about a document is to label it “Top Secret.”

Perhaps that was my mistake, yet again. You probably won’t hear about it in many places, but this past Sunday I was one of the main organizers of the International Volunteers Workshop: Opportunities to Help North Koreans, co-hosted by the Teach North Korean Refugees Education Center at AOU, Justice for North Korea, and Transitional Justice Working Group. Our goal is to connect English-speaking volunteers with organizations helping North Koreans who have escaped or are still being held hostage in Kim Jong-Il’s country. According to our voluntary registration team, we had almost 200 people from about 40 countries join the event held at Memorial Hall of South Korea’s National Assembly.

A few of the attendees looking around at the diverse crowd trying to do something helpful for North Koreans were openly asking why there wasn’t more media there. After we left, I mentioned to one that it wasn’t too late, one of us, preferably an American, could still return to the National Assembly and steal something, thereby guaranteeing us 72 point headlines in the Korean press for weeks. There would be reunification of the Koreas, in the press, as both sides of the peninsula denounced us.

As if two decades of dealing with media had not already made me cynical, I recently received an email from a reporter who often asks me about stories dealing with North Korea. I mentioned to him that one of the speakers at our upcoming workshop would be Hwang Inchol, the leader of the Association for Family Members of the KAL Kidnapping Victims. The group is pressing for North Korea to return the people on a South Korean airplane (KAL YS-11) hijacked by North Korean agents in 1969. Hwang’s father was on the plane, abducted to North Korea. Even as I was writing the email about the case, I knew it would fail the reporter’s test: “Is it new/news?” Predictably, the reporter wanted to know about a “new” North Korean museum being built somewhere. “New” trumps “important” in journalism.

As I listened to Hwang Inchol, still in pain after 47 years, I became a broken clock, making a note to myself that he wouldn’t get news coverage until he got caught up in a scandal or did something crazy like trying to escape to the DMZ to find his father. It would be pointless, but he might even get as much coverage as the American recently sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly trying to steal a banner in North Korea.

The writer is director of the Teach North Korean Refugees Education Center at American Orientalism University. He can be reached at

2016-03-20 International Volunteers Workshop


“The International Volunteers Workshop: Opportunities to Help North Koreans” was a tremendous success, in terms of measuring success among events.

  • A lot of people were there? Check!
  • Attendees said they enjoyed it? Check!
  • Most attendees stayed from start to finish? Check!!!
  • I led the event without upsetting/offending a lot of people? Pending! Still waiting for feedback. 🙂

* * *

I say it was successful in terms of events because holding the event is just part 1. The key is the follow up. We hosted the event hoping that volunteers would find organizations they could assist and that organizations would find people who could help them overcome their budget struggles and lack of manpower.


Session 1: Andrei Lankov delivered the keynote address. He had the challenge that speakers have at not knowing the audience, so I tried to make it a bit easier by finding out how much attendees knew about him. Of the 230 people who registered in advance, 135 (60%) had never heard of him, 95 (40%) had. And I suspect that some who had heard of him had not read many things by him. So I let him know that in advance because that would be an indicator for him about the audience and the approach he should take.

Session 2: Two North Korean refugees gave testimony and a third introduced her organization. By a coincidence that would give a conspiracy theorists or a fortune teller a heart attack, 135 (60%) of those who registered in advance had never met a North Korean refugee, while 95 (40%) had done so.

“Heartbreaking but inspiring” is what one of the attendees wrote to me this morning about what she heard.

* * *


Session 3: Six different representatives of NGOs presented. It was interesting to hear about the different activities. Even though I am aware of some of them, I got to learn about each one of them more deeply. The most shocking thing is that most people stayed to listen to the NGOs, and that people asked many questions even though the entire Workshop lasted more than 5 hours!

Other thoughts:

  1. So many people arrived on time that we were able to start on time. At one point, we were actually ahead of schedule! Unbelievable.
  2. Volunteers at the Workshop were on the ball. Even when I forgot 5to announce at times when no photographs were allowed, they were monitoring people with cameras. Few details were overlooked, based on the many Kakao messages I was getting during the event reminding me to make various announcements.
  3. We had almost 200 people show up, but according to our team monitoring registration, there were 74 cancellations and no-shows. Wow! Enough of them to have had their own huge event! I will check the final numbers, because crowd counts are always touchy,  and sometimes it depends on who does the counting. For example, some people don’t include speakers and volunteers, but some others do.
  4. The best feedback that I got was from a few of our volunteers who said seeing people outside of TNKR introduced to our program made them realize how special our little project is.
  5. We had an extremely diverse crowd. I haven’t sorted out the final numbers yet, but we had people from 46 different countries sign up in advance.
  6. This past weekend was busy crazy…

Friday night, visited a refugee in the hospital.
Saturday morning, speech to the Asia Leadership Institute
Sunday, International Volunteers Workshop
Monday morning, wrote my Korea Times column

International Volunteers Workshop at the National Assembly

Join Teach North Korean Refugees, Justice for North Korea and Transitional Justice Working Group for the largest gathering of volunteers coming together to find ways to help North Koreans and North Korean refugees.

This event is scheduled for March 20 at the National Assembly of South Korea from 1 to 6 pm.

If you have been thinking about getting involved with helping North Korean refugees then here’s your chance. After this workshop is over, you will have a deeper understanding about North Korea, North Korean refugees and to learn about opportunities for you to get directly involved.

* Andrei Lankov, author of The Real North Korea, has confiirmed he will deliver the keynote address. This will be a great chance to hear from and talk with someone who has been studying about North Korea for almost three decades.

* We also have two North Korean refugees scheduled to speak at the workshop, including Eunsun Kim, author of “A Thousand Miles to Freedom.”

* You will also get to hear directly from representatives of several NGOs actively involved with helping North Korean refugees in Seoul and other places around the world.

Check out then SHARE the cool promo video done by Kiyun Sung.

Register here:
More info here:

* * *

Reasons to join the International Volunteers Workshop on March 20, 2016, from 1 to 6 pm?

1) VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES: The workshop features some leading NGOs introducing their major activities. So you will have any opportunities to get directly involved with helping organizations helping survivors of, current escapees trying to get to freedom and those still trapped by the NK regime.

2) EXPERT INTRODUCTION: Yes, the one and only Andrei Lankov will be kicking off the event. He was a student in North Korea in the 1980s, the author of several books on North Korea, and as expert as you can get when it comes to analyzing North Korea.

3) NORTH KOREAN REFUGEE SPEAKERS: Two different speakers, including the winner of a recent English speech contest featuring North Korean refugees, will be speaking.

4) NATIONAL ASSEMBLY: The workshop will be held at South Korea’s parliament. There aren’t many English-language events hosted at the parliament.

5) LOCATION IS EASY TO FIND!; Here are the step by step directions.

6) YOU ARE BEING INVITED! As long as you are not a spy or a kooky conspiracy theorist, then you are invited to join us.

7) COOKIES, NK STYLE: A prominent North Korean refugee will be selling cookies at the workshop!

* * *

What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation?^^ Please share this with your social media, let others know about thiis great opportunity to interact with several leading and effective NGOs during the same workshop. Bring a friend with you, this is an international event, anyone who wants to help North Korean refugees as well as those still blocked from freedom by the North Korean leaders.

No obligation to remain the entire time, 10,000 won admission so come and leave when you want.


2015-12-05 TNKR Matching: Tips for Tutors by Aromi

I often get feedback and comments from people about things I should differently with (TNKR) Teach North Korean Refugees. There are some fine ideas, but very often, the suggestion is that “somebody” should do it. As I have written, I hate “somebody.” Because when it is time to get work done, then it turns ot that somebody is nobody! TNKR was able to get started because Eunkoo Lee was the first Somebody with TNKR who followed through, and got things done. If not for her, there would have never been a TNKR, I would probably stll be talking about the South Korean economy or singing in rap videos.
Last June, we had another Somebody join us.
Aromi Yook joined (TNKR) Teach North Korean Refugees as a tutor. She gave us a suggestion about how we could improve our language matching sessions.
As I said, I often get suggestions from people who have no intention in actually doing anything other than adding to my to-do list.
As usual, hearing someone give a suggestion, I turned it around and suggested that she is probably the person to get it done.
Much to my surprise, she did! Then she made another suggestion, and she followed through again.
Then she made another suggestion: New tutors might need an orientation. Well, for quite some time, I had been saying out loud that we need a teacher trainer or someone who can do an orientation. Then she was saying she had specific ideas about how to get it done.
Aromi Yook, Academic Adviser! That’s right, she then became Academic Adviser of TNKR.
We humbly started TNKR Matching sessions with a one hour tips session by Aromi. Just a few tutors showed up the first time. Yesterday, of the 17 tutors who signed up and properly followed the process, 16 tutors joined the Tips session for tutors.
* * *
I Hate “Somebody”
by Casey Lartigue
The Korea Times
April 2015
* * *
To be a good volunteer, use your brain
by Casey Lartigue
The Korea Times
December 2012
2015-12-05 Tutors Tips (17)
2015-12-05 Tutors Tips (1)

2015-12-02 at the TNKR office

Today is the first time in a while that I have been at the office all day.

She isn’t always so shy.^^


TNKR in-house tutoring session #1 today. She came in slightly above the ABC level. She is wondering when she will be fluent…
TNKR study session #2: She is a high level speaker. She will be joining our next English Matching session.
TNKR study session #3: He arrived 20 minutes, he will also be joining the next English Matching session.
busy time at TNKR this afternoon… and we are thinking about how to expand so more tutors and refugees can study at the office.
TNKR co-director Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee.
TNKR co-directors Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee.
Judy joined our in-house tutoring program when we started it in mid-September. She's always so delighted, ready to help TNKR whenever possible.
Judy joined our in-house tutoring program when we started it in mid-September. She’s always so delighted, ready to help TNKR whenever possible.

2015-11-02 Yonhap News 탈북자에 무료 영어강의 주선 미국인 라티그씨

(서울=연합뉴스) 이봉석 기자 = 남한으로 넘어온 탈북자들에게 무료로 영어를 가르쳐주는 프로그램이 있다.

한국에 거주하는 미국인 케이시 라티그 씨가 한국인 이은구(36) 씨와 함께 만든 ‘TNKR'(Teach for North Korean Refugees)가 그것이다.

오래전부터 북한 인권에 관심이 많았다는 라티그씨는 탈북자들을 도울 일이 뭐가 있을까 함께 고민하던 중 이씨와 의기투합해 이 프로그램을 만들게 됐다.

이 프로그램은 일반적인 영어학원과 달리 영어를 배우고자 하는 탈북자와 영어를 가르치고자 하는 자원봉사자를 연결해 주는 방식으로 운영된다. 또 자원봉사자가 탈북자 한 명을 1대1로 지도하는 것이 원칙이다.

탈북자와 자원봉사자는 정기적으로 열리는 ‘매칭 데이’를 통해 상대방을 고를 수 있다. 서로 신뢰를 쌓고 학습 효율을 높이기 위한 목적이다.

라티그 씨는 탈북자 학생과 자원봉사자를 주로 페이스북과 카카오톡 같은 SNS를 통해 모집한다.

입소문이 나면서 현재 약 180명의 탈북자가 이 프로그램을 통해 영어를 배우고 있다. 대기 중인 탈북자는 수십 명이고 자원봉사자는 이보다 더 많은 약 280명이다.

라티그 씨는 “영어를 배움으로써 남한 생활에 한층 쉽게 적응하고 더 나은 직업을 찾고자 하는 탈북자들의 문의가 계속 늘고 있다”고 귀띔했다.

실제로 지난해 통일부가 탈북자 1만2천 여명을 대상으로 설문조사를 벌인 결과 40%가 넘는 응답자가 ‘외래어로 인한 의사소통’을 어려움으로 꼽았다.

라티그 씨는 탈북자들이 무대와 영어에 대한 공포를 한꺼번에 해소할 수 있도록 영어 웅변대회도 정기적으로 연다.

그는 “지난해 국제무대에서 북한의 인권 실상을 폭로해 유명해진 탈북자 박연미 씨 등이 이 프로그램을 통해 영어를 배웠다”고 소개했다.

강의가 영어에만 국한된 것도 아니다. 예를 들어 변호사를 꿈꾸는 탈북자가 있으면 법학용어 이해에 도움이 되는 라틴어도 배울 수 있도록 돕는다.

이태원에 위치한 사무실 임대료 등 필요한 경비는 후원을 받아 충당하고 있다고 한다.

라티그 씨는 현재 한국의 시민단체 프리덤 팩토리의 국제협력실장과 탈북자학교인 물망초학교의 국제협력자문위원을 맡고 있다.

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.^^

IMG_4915 IMG_4916 IMG_4918 IMG_4920 IMG_4921

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! ^^

1 2 3 4 5 6 IMG_4821 IMG_4829 IMG_4830 IMG_4835 IMG_4847 IMG_4849 IMG_4864 IMG_4869 IMG_4870 IMG_4873 IMG_4876 IMG_4886 IMG_4891 IMG_4894 IMG_4896 IMG_4898

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?