2019/09/21-22 Orientation Weekend

The Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR) will be holding its 95th or 96th Language Matching session this weekend. I've lost track of how many, there was a time that I could name all of the dates and every volunteer at every session, now I am lucky enough to round up to the correct number of the session. 

To get prepared, we hold 1:1 meetings and orientation sessions with North Korean refugees and orientation sessions with volunteers.

The weekend started Saturday morning with TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee holding an orientation with four North Korean refugees.

Thanks to Laura Yoo and Tony Hwang donating books to TNKR, refugees were able to pick through a number of books. We don't really have enough space to accept too many book donations but can accept a limited number of books, especially shortly before orientation and Matching sessions when refugees are visiting.

Then over the weekend, I led two different orientation sessions with volunteer tutors, with assistance from Daniel Cashmar (Volunteer Advisor) both days, TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee on Saturday, Sarah Swanner (Outreach Coordinator) on Sunday. We had a total of 40 volunteer applicants attend this past weekend (including three walk-ins who didn't go through the application process).

Overall, we had 50 people apply, which is close to our record. The yield of applicants joining sessions has gone up since we started having Orientation Weekend. It gives our staff more to do, but does result in more of the applicants actually making it to an orientation.

I didn't expect to be there on Sunday, so running two orientations on separate days after already having a busy week can be a bit much. It doesn't matter how busy I am, however, Eunkoo Lee will still insist that I hand out membership cards to people, hand out Starbucks cards, check on this and that, etc.

Fundraisers by North Korean refugees studying in TNKR.

2019-09-23 When can I start?

One of the delightful things about being the International Director of the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center is meeting with North Korean refugees when they come in for their initial consultations with us. We want to learn what it is they want to study, make sure they understand that we have a specific process that we expect them to follow, make it clear that this is not a social club to come find foreign friends, and that this is a self-study program so they should not expect tutors to do everything/we have expectations for them.

After we go through the initial interview, the most common question refugees ask: "When can I start?" Some seem to be looking around our office, wondering if there are any teachers available at that moment to start studying.

We have had refugees show up unannounced, even though we don't publicize our address. Others have called us as soon as they learned about us, asking if they could come visit right then. When we tell them they must apply first, then they will call right after that asking if they can come then. Why? Because "I don't want you to forget me. I need to study in TNKR."

Then they come in to visit. In some cases, it seems they are doing cartwheels all the way to our office.

He will be joining our next matching session. He's a busy guy with international connections, so he is extremely motivated to improve his english.

She's been on TV many times and insisted that it was okay to show her face.

She's a writer, so she was quite interested in my book. She wanted to buy a copy, but instead I gave her one for free.

She can't wait to get started. She may choose all of the tutors.

Bonghee Han was getting prepared for choosing tutors she would study with. She analyzed the resumes to make sure she would get the teachers she wanted!

As I was writing this post, I asked TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee: "Do you think refugees are passive?"

She just looked at me, didn't respond. When we first started working together, she thought refugees were passive, that they couldn't make decisions on their own. That's because in her work as a researcher with government agencies, the refugees she encountered were passive. As she said then: Everyone who worked with refugees knew they were passive. The agencies with a lot of money could afford lousy programs because they could pay refugees to be there or get them to show up by requiring their attendance to get other services.

That disagreement was the theme of our TEDx Talk.

And the column I wrote shortly before Eunkoo quit her full-time job to volunteer with TNKR. Some of the stupid expat talkers took it as an attack on Eunkoo, even a radio talk show asked me about it on a radio show, but I showed Eunkoo the column in advance, she was proud that she had developed based on a new situation. The day after I published the column, she made the decision to quit her job to focus on TNKR full-time.


Support fundraisers by students in TNKR


2019-09-18 TNKR forum with MBA students

TNKR had an absolutely fantastic forum with students visiting from the USA. These forums are great for several reasons:

* It gives refugees studying in TNKR practical opportunities to practice public speaking. Over the years, I have noticed that many North Korean refugees who gave public speakers weren't really prepared. When we decided to create our own public speaking program, we wanted to be sure that we weren't like a speaker's bureau with speakers who were expected to already have become polished speakers. It was going to be a work in progress. That meant, despite people asking for us to post speeches online or to even do Facebook Live, our focus was going to be on having the speakers develop at their own speed and that their speeches wouldn't be presented publicly until they were ready.

* Audiences get to hear directly from North Korean refugees. Watching a documentary or reading an article can move people, but meeting directly with NK refugees can have even more of an impact.

* One of the speakers yesterday mentioned that several audience members were crying as they listened to the speeches. Sometimes speakers will cry as they discuss emotional things, but it is even more likely that audience members will cry in a cozy setting like the TNKR office where they are close to the speakers.


I kicked off yesterday's event with a brief introduction of TNKR. I must always be aware that the audience isn't there to hear me, so I need to introduce TNKR to make sure audience members know about the great work we are doing and that the event wouldn't be possible without the TNKR staff and volunteers doing work behind-the-scenes.


Meet Refugees at their individual levels.

Cherie and Scott then gave talks. They both came to TNKR as very high level English speakers and have now become fantastic speakers. I know that it is natural for organizations to take credit for everything a person has done, but I am quite delighted when even great speakers come to us.

For those refugees who speak English at a high level, they really don't need our program. They can just go into the street to meet people. It is easy for them to meet many people who want to help them. 

But as we have heard from many students in our program, they eventually learned that studying with friends was not possible long-term or intensely. They couldn't get into intense studying that was needed, friends mainly wanted to chit-chat and people of the opposite sex eventually would express interest in dating. The difference refugees noticed is that our program is focused on their individual needs, not helping at the friend level.


Then after the speeches came the main event: Q&A. This is where speakers like Cherie and Scott can really shine. Almost anyone who has studied can give a speech by just memorizing or reading a text. Cherie and Scott can both interact in the world of English, giving thoughtful, humorous and interesting answers to questions.

Yesterday's audience had many good and pointed questions. The speakers noticed how engaged the audience was. It was their first time interacting with anyone from North Korea. The cozy setting of course made it more intimate than a huge audience. My role during that time is to provide additional context, data, anecdotes without taking over Q&A. I'm not a safety cop merely directing traffic, I have some things to say also.

Several people said they would like to volunteer although only one person has followed up so far.

Photo Time

Q&A is the main event, but photo time is a close second! No matter how emotional the speeches have been, there are mostly smiles after such an event!

Then afterwards, we talked with Cherie and Scott a bit more. For some reason, Cherie and Eunkoo began attacking the bear when they thought it was somehow related to me.


TNKR featured at KOTESOL International Conference

Will you be at this year's KOTESOL conference? TNKR will be!

TNKR will be one of the organizations featured at this year's international conference. KOTESOL is holding a special "KOTESOL Gives Back" session encouraging attendees to donate to TNKR and KUMFA.We are scheduled to be on from 1:30 to 2:00 on October 12.

Please refer to the KOTESOL Website for conference information. (October 12 and 13 at Sookmyung Women's University)

We had a planning meeting at the TNKR office with KOTESOL and KUMFA staff to get prepared.

These flyers were designed by high school student Prachi Didwania.

TNKR staff assistant YoungJoo Yoo will be managing the TNKR booth at KOTESOL, so sign up here if you would like to volunteer.


Featured by Queen Magazine

Jeff Flake mentioned Casey Lartigue in Congressional Testimony, endorsed Brown book

Senator Jeff Flake is in the news today because of the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. My only interaction with Flake dates back to 2002-04. I was part of a coalition that worked with Congressmen Jeff Flake and Tom Davis, and that Bush Administration, that helped create the Washington DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.

When Congress was having a key vote, many of the DC parents who had been speaking out in favor of the legislation were invited to witness the vote. I was invited by the parents to join them. The Congressmen took a few minutes to come by to say hello to all of us.

Flake endorsed the book I co-edited and also cited me in his statement before the House of Representatives. 

Statement of Congressman Jeff Flake 
House Government Reform Committee Hearing 
May 9, 2003 
H.R. 684, the D.C. School Choice Act 

In a report by Casey Lartigue of the CATO Institute, we find that D.C. public schools have been suffering from poor graduation rates, poor test scores and poor performance on national tests when compared to national averages. One third of those educated in D.C. Public Schools are functionally illiterate, the city has a drop out rate of 40 percent for those students entering the 8U' grade, 12 schools have been labeled `failing' under the No Child Left Behind Act, the test scores are atrocious, and this isn't new.

House Government Reform Committee Hearing, H.R. 684 

Educational Freedom In Urban America 
Edited by David Salisbury and Casey Lartigue Jr. 

“An excellent examination of how Brown v. Board of Education changed the educational landscape and impacted future generations. The public would be well served if lawmakers, school board members, and educational administrators used this analysis as a resource.”

—Congressman Jeff Flake


Korean subtitles added to Yonhap video

We now have Korean subtitles added to this video! Please share it with Korean speakers you know so they can learn about TNKR in Korean.

Thanks to Youngmin Kwon for the translation, Jinmi Kim for adding the subtitles, and Eunkoo Lee for proofing the video and managing the process!


2016-12-14 Politic journal at Yale University (Casey Lartigue quoted)

The Politic: The Yale College Journal of Politics is a monthly Yale University student publication that traces its roots to 1947. I am one of the people quoted in a feature story by Megan McQueen in The Politic about the struggles North Korean refugees have after they escape.

* * *

Casey Lartigue Jr.​, a founder of the nonprofit (TNKR) Teach North Korean Refugees​, compared China’s repatriation to slavery in the American South.


2016-12-13 Charity concert to raise fund for NK defectors (Korea Times)

Charity concert to raise fund for NK defectors
by John Max Redmond​
The Korea Times​

An NGO supporting North Korean refugees is presenting a charity concert titled "2016 Hold Hands, Love Concert" at the Seocho Hanwoori Rehabilitation Center in southern Seoul, Saturday.

The concert run by (TNKR) Teach North Korean Refugees​ aims to raise funds and awareness for the education of North Korean refugees in the South. It features cellist BoumJun Bae​, gayageum (12-string zither) player Bae Ji-soo, orchestral music from the Hanwoori Eins Baum Chamber and musical actress Kim Na-hee (김나희​).

"We have been working more closely with refugees who are seeking to tell their stories to the world," said Casey Lartigue Jr.​, co-founder of TNKR.


2016-11-30 Is Donald Trump a Racist? (Korea Times Roundtable)

Korea Times Roundtable Discussion
Casey Lartigue: "Is Donald Trump a racist?"
http://tinyurl.com/hgxqghb (Korea Times link)

Michael Breen: "Me and My Liberal Tribe"

Donald Kirk: "Media mix facts with views" by Donald Kirk

Oh Young-jin: "How to make Trump great president"

Three Korea Times columnists speak on the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president in a roundtable hosted by Chief Editorial Writer Oh Young-jin, third from left, at the Times conference room, last week. From left are Michael Breen, Don Kirk, Oh and Casey Lartigue Jr. Oh's column, titled "How to make Trump a great president," was previewed online and will be published in Thursday's edition of the newspaper. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chu



TNKR featured on tvN (2016-09-12)

tvN did a full-length special about Teach North Korean Refugees! Check it out:

Email CJL(@)post.harvard.edu to receive a copy via email, but the link can't be shared online (tvN owns the copyright).


2015-10-17 TNKR--3 orientations, 6 hours

TNKR had three orientation sessions yesterday, from noon to 6 pm.
  • Session 1 had 16 tutors, mainly with tutors  who will be at the October 24 Matching session with 10 refugees ( 8 newcomers, 2 returnees).
  • Session 2 had 13 tutors who will be at the October 31 Re-Matching session with 7 refugees returning to the program.
  • Session 3 had 8 refugees who will be joining on Oct 24 (6 of them went through our new in-house tutoring program we launched last month).
Some notable things:
  • Some of the most common questions we are asked about TNKR: "How do find refugees?" My response: "We don't. They find us."  A related question: "How do refugees find you?" Based on yesterday: "Referrals." All eight refugees at yesterday's orientation were referred to the program by current or previous students. When we first started TNKR in March 2013, we did search, but not now. We have a waiting list of 50 refugees.
  • One of the refugees said that she wants to work for TNKR. She was praising us so much, saying that 1) she can't believe we don't charge refugees anything 2) we should market more so every refugee can join, to which I said "no, we do this as volunteers." 3) she hopes she can work with TNKR so we can help even more people.
  • Assuming they all make it to the upcoming matching sessions, 29 new tutors will be joining the program. They are from all over the world (USA, South Korea, England, Canada, Canada/Scotland, Germany/Netherlands, Australia). In addition, they are coming in from all around Korea (Wonju, Gongju, Gunpo, Sangju, Bundang, Gimcheon, Gangseo, Suji, Suwon).
  • Of course, we worry about the political ones or researchers with an agenda, but it seems that most of them are teachers who just want to contribute their time.
  • We had many lovely comments from tutors. Several said they are fans of the program, some even expressed great admiration for the co-founders. One said that she loves how everything is in "black and white." Communication is a key part of the program. for several months now we have been using Kakao to communicate, it has made the program much better. It is harder for tutors or refugees to hide from us, although some insist on having side conversations without us. By having a refugee in a Kakao group with all of his/her tutors and the co-directors means we all know what is going on, and it is a team effort.
  • Several of the tutors also said they are eager to teach adults who are motivated to learn.  But a few did express concerns about whether or not they would be chosen. In two years, we have had only 2 (out of 280) tutors who did not get picked.  So we encourage the tutors to focus on what they can do rather than mentioning what they can't do.
  • At the end, the refugees were asking questions about me. Some had heard about me because of some of my other activities with refugees, but they wanted to know more about me. So I popped in my ppt showing my various activities over the years. It is then that they understand that I am devoted to freedom, opportunity and individual autonomy. I should not be surprised that they want to know about me, but it surprises me every time.
  • Winding down, Eunkoo and I realized how crazy it was that we had six hours of orientations on a Saturday. So I suggested to her that we should take the day off. Of course, even Sunday morning, we are getting many messages and requests, and I'm writing this...
  • When we first started TNKR, we had orientation and matching sessions the same day. And we tried to squeeze them both into two hours. After a while, we decided to divide them in half. We will never go back to doing it the way we had before. We meet the tutors in advance, we give them time to ask questions, we get to hear their questions and comments..
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