Former TNKR ambassador and student Yeonmi Park just gave a TED Talk. As far as I know, she is the third North Korean refugee to do so. Hyeonseo Lee was the first, back in 2013.

During 2012, I was co-chair of the Committee to get Hyeonseo Lee on TED. It was a great experience, and my baptism by fire in this field. The first big change is that I joined Facebook to launch the campaign (and got banned twice very quickly for not knowing Facebook protocol).


One week after Hyeonseo’s TED Talk, Eunkoo Lee and I began English Matching (NOTE: Hyeonseo was never in TNKR, but the experience with her was a spark as I was listening to refugees talk about their challenges). Later in 2013, Joseph Kim was the second refugee to give a TED talk. He is now with the Bush Center, I was delighted to speak on a panel with him two weeks ago.


The third as far as I know is Yeonmi. We had talked about TED back in 2014, but other opportunities came first, such as her incredible One Young World talk. Back in 2014, I arranged a TEDx Talk for her and she studied with 18 different TNKR tutors during the year. I’m delighted to see how she has become an even more powerful speaker, although from the first speech it was clear that she was special (thoughtful, spoke with conviction, and had things to say).

We have had a number of other North Korean refugees in TNKR give TEDx Talks (local events that are authorized by TED). It has been wonderful being part of these experiences helping NK refugees get prepared for international speeches.

TNKR is now upgrading its process, we are now seeking speech coaches who can help North Korean refugees with public speaking and writing. Writing will be the big challenge, many fluent speakers can communicate, but writing flawlessly in a second language is a different matter. To help refugees with their writing ability, we will spend May and June focused on writing. If you love explaining and teaching proper English grammar and writing to second language learners, and doing so in an English-immersion project  then this will be a great opportunity.

After helping refugees improve basic grammar and writing for two months, then during July-August, refugees in TNKR will focus on public speaking. This isn’t in theory: many of the students will be competing in TNKR’s 10th English speech contest on September 1.

Students started signing up immediately, volunteer coaches can expect to have extremely motivated students.

After the speech contest, we want to reinforce the point that the learning process, improvement and development of writing and speaking skills are what is really important.

Of course, it would be great to have one of the speakers giving a speech on an international stage or locally, or just giving better presentations in their university classes or jobs. As one of the speech and writing coaches, you could help make that happen. Back in 2012 when I was part of Hyeonseo’s team and had a leadership role, I never expected all of the great things that would happen because of TNKR.

We hope this new process will make it clear that winning the speech contest is not the only thing that matters. Some students have competed in the process several times before winning, and others may never win. One thing that is true is that they improved their confidence and skills and were ready for other challenges in their lives. 

You can be part of this process by applying as a volunteer writing and speaking coach.