2019-07-19, Event #1: TNKR was featured at the 44th World Youth Rally. I delivered the keynote address in 2018, and this year I was invited to return. That in itself is incredible because organizations often seek a variety of speakers, and not invite back featured speakers from previous years.

I thought it might be a bit boring for them to hear from me again giving the same speech, so I suggested inviting some of the refugees in TNKR, which they accepted. They negotiated with TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee that TNKR would present for two hours.

Of course, TNKR was made to feel welcome from the very beginning, with the signs they had outside. I felt a bit like a cult leader with my photo being featured so prominently, but no one has to worry, the banners were properly rolled up and put away even before we were ready to leave the room!


I started the event with a 30 minute talk. Last year I spoke for an hour about a number of things, and this year they asked me to introduce myself a bit more. It seems that when I invite myself at length that people want me to stop, but when I don’t introduce myself at length, people wonder if I am shy.

I also received assistance from TNKR intern Elizabeth Kim with this PowerPoint, she added a playful section to it.

TNKR special ambassador Ken Eom stole the stage with a humorous and thoughtful talk. He was one of the three refugees to give speeches.

  • Ken, joined TNKR in 2015. He started TNKR without knowing the basics of public speaking. Now, amazing. He is ready to give a speech at an international event, he has had the opportunity to develop his own style while also developing a variety of speeches. He has reached that level of not only interacting with the audience, but also questioning, challenging, prodding and teasing audience members.
  • Jade, joined TNKR in 2014. She was a basic level speaker at that time and we shielded her identity until recently. It was amazing to see her speaking. Everything we do in TNKR, she joins, and she has also been noticed by larger organizations and even won a US government scholarship to study in the USA. She delivered a thoughtful and well-researched speech.
  • The third speaker is a refugee who prefers to remain anonymous for now, he first joined TNKR in 2017. When he first joined us, he was definitely a basic level English learner and wasn’t anywhere close to giving a speech. Even though refugees tell us they hope to get English immersion, he is one who, after meeting his tutors, attempted to speak Korean to them. One of his South Korean tutors, Minwoo Kim, ignored the refugee’s attempts to use Korean, insisting on using English. After he realized that Minwoo would not give in, the refugee began using English. After they had studied together for quite a while, this refugee praised his tutor for forcing him to use English, saying, “He really respects the TNKR process.” The refugee later won a U.S. government scholarship to study abroad. He says without his experience in TNKR that he would not have had the courage or self-confidence to study abroad.


After all of us gave speeches, we then had Q&A with the audience. I must be careful in these situations, even when I’m the one on the poster and invited as the featured speaker I know that the audience wants to hear from the refugees. I’m not a safety office just directing traffic, so I will jump in sometimes, but only after the refugees have responded or are debating among each other before answering.

It was fantastic hearing their thoughtful remarks. TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee was there ready to translate some of the more subtle points that were asked during Q&A.

I do have to remain calm when I hear people in audiences who have been to North Korea quoting North Korean tour guides in North Korea as authorities explaining the reality of North Korea. Then they get stunned when they meet people who had to risk their lives to escape North Korea. According to the tour guides in North Korea, education, food, medical care and housing are all free. But talk to North Korean exiles, they share a different story about the need to bribe officials to get those “free” services or the need to even pay for everything directly to service providers. Here’s a podcast I did in 2014 about North Korea’s “free” medical system.

People often ask, “What do North Koreans think about (fill-in-the-blank),” as if there is a monolith. It turns out that North Korean refugees think many things, often depending on their different experiences, generation, family situations, etc. Kind of like people around the world. Discussions like yesterday’s may even make that clear to people who take tour guides as spreading the gospel truth, but probably not.

Photo time

There is no such thing as a TNKR event without photos. Of course, we protected the identity of the one speaker who prefers to remain anonymous for now. I love the way Ken Eom would take charge during photos, hugging the audience members like they were old friends.

It has been incredible to see the way he has blossomed over the last four years.

Or you can view the photos above as a slide show.


I did regret two things from yesterday. One, that our staff and interns had to be subjected to a long minute speech by me, they see enough of me at the office every day. TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee wants all team members to join such events, but I’d prefer to go on my own, staff and volunteers will get tired of hearing me talk.

Still, overall, they seemed to have a good time.

My second regret is that we blew up the group photo. We usually have the speakers and main organizers sit at the front. Part of this began from the past when Eunkoo Lee would stand at the back or the side when we would take group photos. We also had other cases where refugee speakers who are public would be standing off on the side rather than being featured.

I knew they had the big banner at the top, but I didn’t realize they had a banner right behind us, which we ended up blocking! That means they won’t be using that photo in publicity about the event. We need a checklist for events that includes making sure we feature speakers and organizers, but also that we don’t block the banner!

2019, we are blocking the second banner
2018, I spoke alone and blended in with the group, and properly stood behind the banner.

After wrapping up the event, Eunkoo and I went to a networking event with South Koreans focused on North Korean refugees.