Mulmangcho FAQ

Every Sunday, a group of volunteers go to Yeouj to teach and mentor some children who escaped from North Korea. You are invited to join us. To do this, please send A) copy of your resume or a bio with the B) Application that we can share with the founder of the school before you help out.


Q: What is the Mulmangcho School?
A: It is a small alternative school for young refugees from North Korea. It was opened in September 2012 by Prof. Park Sun-Young.

Q: What does "Mulmangcho" mean?
A: It means "forget-me-not." Prof. Park says she wants to remind people that we should not forget about North Korean refugees after they have successfully escaped.


Q: I'm a first-timer. I have no idea what I should prepare.
A: First-timers are not expected to lead a class. It would be great if you could prepare a game or activity that can last 15 to 30 minutes. There are usually at least two or three veteran teachers to lead the class or classes, so you might want to join the Facebook group so you can monitor messages during the week and get to know some of the regulars.


Q: Yeoju?
A: Getting there:


Part 1: arrive at the bus station and buy a ticket.

Easy explanation: Go to the old bus terminal (where the Express Bus Terminal subway station meets at subway lines 3, 7 and 9), buy a ticket to Yeoju, go to Platform 23 to catch the bus. Check here for step by step directions.

More difficult, detailed explanation:
From the Express Bus Terminal (meets at subway lines 3, 7, 9) take exit 2.
Take the escalator or walk upstairs. When you get upstairs, you will see Dunkin Donuts immediately. The easiest way is to turn left, walk for about 15 seconds, then take the escalator up.
From there, turn left, walk about another 15 seconds, you will see another Dunkin Donuts. You can (A) wait there for us or (B) walk past the Dunkin Donuts, turn right and walk out the doors. Walk straight, you will walk through a new set of doors, walk straight until you get to the ticket window.

For first-timers sure they will get lost: After you exit from the subway, then contact me. I can meet you at the Dunkin Donuts that is at the top of the stairs. And if I happen to be out the week you are going, then I will make sure there is someone else there to meet you.

Part 2: Get on the bus

After buying the ticket, your next challenge is to get Platform 23, that's where the bus goes to Yeoju.
I don't want to complicate things, but FYI, there is more than one window to buy a ticket. The key is to buy a ticket going to Yeoju, and to get to Platform 23, that's where the bus waves good-bye to Seoul.

Part 3: Arrive at Yeoju bus terminal

The bus ride takes about an hour and 10 minutes, to arrive around 10:30. From the Yeoju bus terminal, wait for the ride to take you to the school to start teaching around 11.

Part 4: Returning

We typically return to the Yeoju bus station to catch the 1:20 bus, returning to Seoul by 2:30.


Q: Wonderful. I can't wait to go there to take a million photos and then post the names of the kids all over the Internet.
A: Whoa, slow down! They are fine with taking photos. But never, ever, ever mention the names of the kids. Some of the young adults have gotten on Facebook, but I still advise caution. Even if someone else happens to mention the name, don't use that as an excuse for you to do so. As I'm sure your mom told you: If everyone else jumped in a river (or off a mountain), would you do the same thing?


Q: Okay, I'm in. What do I do next?
A:  Sign up
 Sign up and send a message to cjl@post.harvard.edu to confirm your interest. Please take your RSVP seriously--the van comfortably fits 7, so if you flake out, it could mean that a non-flake could have joined to help out.

Q: Great, the more I hear, the more I love it. This will be a great a chance for me to conduct interviews for my thesis.
A: Ah...please remember to keep the focus on the students and helping them improve their English. 
Some of them come from broken homes, some are orphans, some have relatives still trapped in North Korea or other circumstances. 


Q: What's the dress code?
A: It is Sunday morning, so we understand that not everyone is ready for a fashion show.

My suggestion: Dress the way your mom would dress you. If that is business casual or business clown, that's fine. During the summer, some teachers wear shorts. In my case, I prefer a tuxedo and top hat, but that's just me.

Be aware: The International Adviser to the school is not photogenic, but he still likes to take a group photo each week.

In summary: There is no dress code, we will almost always allow you to teach, although I may give your mom a call...


Q: Why do you need my resume?
A: It is required of all first-timers. Nothing personal, we have them on hand when the founder of the school asks. A standard resume is fine. If you want to update, it is nice to know about interests or skills of volunteers.

Q: Do I need to give you a local phone number?
A: If you have one, yes. If you have a local phone number, then put that one on your resume. Not an overseas phone number...


Q; This is some great info. Where can I find more?
* On the scene report by Alyssa Green: http://theinexhaustiblevariety.blogspot.kr/2014/01/volunteering-at-mulmangcho-school.html
* "Open Door to N. Koreans"  http://freedomfactory.co.kr/bbs/bbsDetail.php?cid=liber&wcode=1329&pn=2&idx=3493 (Mulmangcho students had their visas rejected by the U.S. government) 
* Video of Mulmangcho students at one year anniversary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDbTeXpI4yA
* Mulmangcho founder Park Sun-Young profiled in Korea Herald http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20140214000767


Teach for North Korean Refugees

Directors: Casey Lartigue, Jr., and Lee Eunkoo

Ambassadors: Park Yeonmi, Cho Joo Yeon, Sodam Jeong, Pam Davidson

Former team members: Yeonhee Han, Victoria Oh

Teach for North Korean Refugees based at the Mulmangcho Research Center in Bangbae-dong holds regular sessions matching North Korean refugees with English-speaking volunteers. Below are some common questions (with my sometimes uncommon answers):


Q: What is "Teach for North Korean Refugees?"
A: I’m glad you asked! This is a wonderful volunteer project that gives North Korean refugees a chance to improve their English and volunteers the opportunity to help them while also doing something good.

Q: What is a typical matching session like?
A: Scroll down below this FAQ for some photos and a video.
Typically, volunteers and refugees introduce themselves, explaining what they want to get out of the project. Everyone should explain mention when and where are the most convenient times and places to study. Teachers introduce themselves first, then refugees. They they match. After that, we go out for dinner.

Q: How will the organizers match the refugees and volunteers?
A: We don’t! We allow the North Korean refugees to select their tutors. We have found that they are more committed to the program when they make the selections themselves. The goal is to allow tutors and refugees to make the best matches possible.

Q: What's the dress code?
A: Dress so your mother wouldn't be embarrassed. We don't enforce a dress code, but obviously, this is an important event in the lives of our North Korean refugee friends, so try to have some pride as you are getting dressed in the morning.

Q: When will the session be finished?
A: Depending on when most people arrive, how many refugees and tutors, how long everyone talks, if it seems that everyone is familiar with the expectations and has read the FAQ...typically the sessions last between 70 to 100 minutes. You are welcome to leave at any time, and we can inform you later if any refugees chose you. We typically go out to eat together after the session.


Q: What are the qualifications of the tutors?
A: We are not as rigorous as some of the other programs out there, we admit it. You should be a fluent or high-level English speaker. It also helps if you shower regularly, brush your teeth, your appearance doesn’t scare small children, etc. But if you have been seeking an English teacher for yourself, then you probably wouldn't qualify and probably won't be selected by a student.

Q: This sounds great. How do I apply?
A: 1) send your resume to CJL@post.harvard.edu 2) sign up here 3) Casey will confirm you 4) Monitor the Facebook group for updates and join the particular Facebook event page you plan to join 5) Confirm at least one day in advance 6) Fill out this application.


Unsolicited advice about resumes (submitting here and other places):
* You might want to put your first and last name in the subject. I have received many creative resume titles, such as, "Resume." Or "Resume 2014." When those resumes get downloaded, it isn't very easy to distinguish one from the other. If you are applying for a job, with 10 out of 50 resumes with the title "Resume," you can imagine that you could easily get lost in the shuffle.
* I'm happy when people have me in mind, it always boosts my ego, but I have received many resumes with the subject line "For Casey" or "Casey."
* I know that people want to protect their cell phone numbers, but a resume with your phone number in Texas is not very useful in case I actually need to call you or add you to Kakao. Not that I would ever do such a thing. My colleague Eunkoo goes through the resumes and deletes your personal info before we pass it on to the refugees.

Only those invited are allowed to attend. Uninvited or unapproved friends will be considered to be gate-crashers and will be asked to leave.

Spreadsheet to signup

Teach for North Korean Refugees--Facebook group

You are welcome but not required to send in supporting materials (videos of you teaching, teaching materials, syllabus) to make your case to the refugees. Please don’t ask me what you should send, that is up to you! Just think about the question: What would I like to present about myself that would make the refugees want to select me as a tutor? Then do that.


Q: How long do I gotta teach?
A: We ask for 1) a 3 month commitment 2) meet at least twice a month 3) meet for at least one hour at each session 4) avoid socializing for the first three months.

Q: What if I want to do a language exchange with the student who selects me?
A: If you want that then please find a different program! This is intended to help North Korean refugees improve their English. If you are a fluent Korean speaker or are trying to learn Korean, that is also excellent. But this program is not the time for you to use Korean except in extreme situations or with a refugee who needs such language help. Please, remember not to let it become a Korean-language discussion, that will defeat the purpose of this program.

Q: What is the minimum level of Korean fluency?
A: None is required. It depends on the North Korean refugees. Some of them want tutors who are bilingual, some of them want English-immersion. Because we encourage them to select more than one tutor, some choose both bilinguals and English-only teachers.

Also…we do stay in touch with the refugees. They may humor you by talking with you in Korean, but they may quietly complain to us about teachers speaking to them in Korean.

Q: Can we study using Skype?
A: Certainly. But we do require that you attend a matching session if we don’t already know you. We also suggest alternating between face-to-face and Skype sessions.

Q: What if I just want to have conversation, not teach TOEIC, TOEFL, or grammar?
A: Communicate that. We have some higher level speakers who don’t want to study grammar, but want conversation and to be corrected. Some want to study grammar intensively. Others want to study for a particular test or major. A key thing about this program is communication. That’s how we get good matches—from both sides communicating.

Q: What if I want to teach something specific that you haven’t mentioned?
A: Please let us know that when you apply! We can communicate that to the refugees in advance. But if you wait to surprise us at the matching session, by saying that you want to teach about 19th French literature, then I can’t promise that anyone will be interested in that.


Q: What if I can’t commit to three months?
A: Then communicate that to us. There are some refugees who are delighted to meet more people, to study as often as possible, so just let us know. We won’t try to block you, we will leave it up to you, but please be kind enough to give the refugees accurate information so they can make the best possible decision. If you are going to be leaving in a month, but can only teach once…well, don’t waste our time. But if you are going to leave in a month, and can meet with the refugee twice a month during that time, then communicate that, you may have refugees fighting over who can get you.

Q: How many refugees may I teach?
A: As many as your schedule and energy level can handle. And it depends on how many refugees select you. If you are someone with a free schedule, then communicate that.


Q: Where do we hold these study sessions?
A: That is up to you and your student! Some people meet at coffee shops, some at study centers, others come up with other arrangements.

Q: What if I don't live in Seoul?
A: It is fine, even if you are coming from Jupiter, as long as you can get to Seoul at least twice a month. You may be able to work out Skype sessions with your student, but at least in the beginning, we expect face-to-face sessions.


Q: What if my student keeps canceling?
A: Let us know. It is possible to switch matches, to find new ones, or to find a solution to the problem. Remember, the goal is to have good matches.

Q: What if my student wants to quit?
A: Don’t let them quit easily. Some need extra encouragement. The dream of a private tutor bumps up against the reality of actually improving their English. If you notice problems, communicate with us. There is no shame in having to switch students or making a change.

Q: What do the directors do?
A: They recruit and organize, and think about this more than anyone, including the refugees.

Q: What do the Academic Advisers do?
A: They keep tabs on every group we match. It is important for tutors to send them short reports about every session. This is not to monitor or punish—it helps keep us connected, a better understanding of the needs of everyone, and will let us know if there is a problem that must resolved.
Please don't force the advisers to chase you. Please answer their questions, be responsive.


Q: What if I want to teach children rather than adults?
A: Then ask Casey about the Mulmangcho program. He can talk all day and night about it, and he usually does so until someone cuts him off.


Q: I signed up, but there's a waiting list. May I join the session anyway?
A: No. You will be considered  gate-crasher. The focus is on the teachers and tutors in the session. And use your brain. Get together a group of your friends, contact us, propose one or two different days and times, and we may be able to collaborate on a session.


Many teachers are really curious to learn about the refugees, but we suggest that in most cases, it really isn't relevant to you teaching them English. Of course, if you have a refugee who is high level and has a chance to give speeches, yes, the refugee needs to talk about their own stories. But if you are teaching a refugee the alphabet, then there is no reason to get into curiosity questions about their lives.

Q: What if I want to use this as a research project, recruit students for my documentary, or engage in other activities that have nothing to do with English teaching?
A: Propose it! We may be able to work it out. We have some talented teachers, some of them have agendas other than teaching. Let us know. But there is no reason for you to keep the secret from us. For the three month commitment when you start, focusing on English teaching.


1) Teach in Korean without informing us of the need and with the agreement of the student in advance.
2) Don't submit reports about your classes.


Q: Can I get a certificate for teaching in this program?
A: If you give us constant updates, stay in touch with us, and we get feedback from your students, then yes, we can give you a certificate or a letter of recommendation. But think about it: If you never contact us, how can we endorse you or even know if you were meeting?

A final note: The NK refugees that we are introducing to you are some of our friends, recommended to us, or acquaintances in some way. Based on experience, it seems that the teachers realize what a special thing this is and treat them with the care that we expect. If you are just curious about meeting North Korean refugees, looking to have some stories to tell back home, or looking for something exotic to put on your resume, then this project is not for you. We want people who will take this seriously and do their best to help the North Korean refugees improve their English.

I Remain,

Casey Lartigue, Jr.

* * *


In defense of NGOs (The Korea Times, September 24, 2014)

Back when I was in America, I was occasionally accused of being a sellout or "enemy of black people" because of some of the organizations I worked with (the funding sources of those critics or their favorite causes were always considered to be squeaky clean). I was recently attacked online by some folks using similar "follow the money" and "guilt by association" arguments. So I wrote the following column about it, in tomorrow's Korea Times..
In defense of NGOs (The Korea Times, September 24, 2014)
By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

There's an old joke about two Jewish friends, one of whom subscribes to a Nazi newspaper.
"How can you read that trash?" one friend asks the other.
"This is better than reading the Jewish newspapers," the friend with the subscription responds. "All they ever talk about is problems. According to my Nazi paper, we Jews control the banks, the media and Hollywood too. I love it!"
Most NGOs that help North Korean refugees can identify with that joke. They are small, poorly funded, understaffed, crammed into tiny offices and dependent on volunteers. Critics, however, see them as having unlimited access to taxpayer and foundation money.
I started getting such attacks even before I got into the NGO world. In the 1990s, when I was a young man working as an English teacher in South Korea, I was accused by a Korea Times columnist of writing commentaries to attract attention from foundations.
My response: Is that possible? I immediately put my articles together in a portfolio.
Whenever I have engaged in activism for free or written for fun, critics like that columnist haven't shown up to help. But the prospect of getting support sets off their "guilt by association" alarms and has them asking me to do some soul-searching. Much like authors, speakers and iPhone developers, I am delighted to have people pay me to say and do what I want.
I forgot to thank that columnist for the inspiration, but thanks in part to that personal attack I eventually landed a position at the Cato Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C. Later I joined Fight for Children, a nonprofit that financially supports organizations assisting low-income children.
Attacking funding sources is an old tactic. Nineteenth-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass was attacked because of his associates and supporters, to which he would respond: "I would unite with anyone to do right and with nobody to do wrong."
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., worked with communists, liberals, conservatives, labor representatives, church leaders, rich people who didn't march and poor people who did. In short, he united with anyone to further his cause and apparently didn't care who gave him money. If Rev. King had worked only with people approved by his opponents and purists, then it would have been just him _ and maybe his wife, Coretta _ marching.
Asked by a British reporter if he would accept communist support, Malcolm X responded: "It's like being in a wolf's den. The wolf sees someone on the outside who is interested in freeing me from the den. The wolf doesn't like that person on the outside. But I don't care who opens the door and lets me out."
Like Douglass, King and X, I don't care who wants to fund me. Funders certainly have agendas, but I have my own: to advocate for freedom. I'm as likely to go against personal and economic liberty as the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is to serve the grilled meat of animals that were tortured in front of them.
In 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the state of Alabama when it attempted to force the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to reveal the names and addresses of its members and agents in the state. The critics' goal then, as now, was to block their opponents from uniting with people willing to finance them. They want their opponents to fight armed with cardboard weapons.
Instead of being defensive, I challenge such critics to a) guide me to funders who can replace the ones they don't like; and b) personally contribute to my latest social cause. They continue talking and questioning without helping.
I have learned that such critics are always ready with "heads-I-win, tails-you-lose" arguments. On the one hand, South Koreans are accused of not caring about North Korean refugees, but the ones who work at NGOs are accused of profiting off North Koreans. NGOs get accused of chasing government money to engage in propaganda, but also get dismissed as paid lackeys when they get foundation money.
A tiny North Korean NGO struggles to get a $25,000 grant from a huge foundation while Harvard University or an orchestra company waltzes in to collect $5 million, and it is the NGO that allegedly has sold its soul.
My regret is that I have failed to raise more money for local NGOs to help North Korean refugees. Many people prefer cracking North Korean dictator jokes and talking about issues like reunification that they can't do anything about. So it is an achievement when private foundations and individuals open their wallets to help North Korean refugees.
I long for the day that NGOs working to help North Korean refugees no longer have to fight with cardboard weapons.
The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co. in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at cjl@post.harvard.edu


Teach North Korean Refugees--directions to Mulmangcho Human Rights Institute

DIRECTIONS to Mulmangcho Institute=Easy, easy, easy. Almost like they chose the location for the people who get lost within a block from home...

* Bangbae station on line 2, exit 1. Walk to the top of the stairs. 

* Look to your left. There will be a Woori Bank teller machine.

* Standing, looking directly at the teller machine location, walk inside the building to the right of it, under the navy blue sign with the telephone number "587-4145-6..." Walk up to the 3rd floor, room 305.

That's it. After you leave the subway exit, it will take you about 5 seconds to get to the building. I don't have a Naver map for it, but if you are driving, use the Bangbae subway as a landmark. Bangbae station (line 2) exit 1 Woori Bank Bd (우리은행건물) #305호

I know people won't believe me, they have been lied to so many times by people in Korea who said a location was "easy to find." I have learned that "easy to find" in Korea means:

“Sure, just go down the street about 100 meters. Turn left, enter the third unmarked building. Take the elevator to the top floor. After you get on the roof, run to the edge and leap to the next building. Climb down the side of the building. Squeeze through the tiny door marked 'danger,' probably turning your body sideways. Haha, just kidding, doors in Korea are never marked 'danger.'

Go down the alley--quickly, fast fast--that is marked ‘run or die.’ Then, dig a tunnel--I hope you brought a shovel--until you reach a wall with the sign, 'Easy to find Supermarket.' Exit through the manhole. If you run into a barricade, no problem, just don’t stop running, especially if it between 5 to 7 p.m. If you see a sign reading ‘Welcome to North Korea’ then you have gone too far and should dig a hole in the opposite direction. Then, look on your left. And you’ll be there! Easy, you can't miss it! I go there once a week! Tell them I sent you.”


Korea is a "hero-less" society

Why doesn't Korea have landmarks named after its great leaders and heroes/heroines? That's what Lee Chang-sup asks rhetorically before answering...

1) Individualism of Americans and that Koreans see things in terms of nations, dynasties, epochs. (Parenthetically, I think this explains things such as why Koreans are fine with a 513% tariff on imported rice.) 

2) Korean's turbulent modern history. Hallelujah! This is one of the most fightingest civilized countries I am familiar with. It isn't enough for Koreans to win, the other side must lose. And opponents are never to be honored. It doesn't matter about the good things a leader may have done, the downside is to be focused on. Yes, it is the same in other countries, in the same way that terrorists chopping off heads and children stealing candy are both criminals...

3) North Korea's deification of leaders. This one is less persuasive to me. A street named after one of South Korea's dictators will conjure up memories of the Kim dictators in North Korea? Okay, not persuasive to me, but apparently so in Korea, so that Koreans will refuse to want to drive down Dictator Street. 

4) Not enough history--this makes some sense. Leaders from 500 years ago are safely praised--King Sejong the Great was king, which should make him even worse than a dictator. Historical perspective may be needed before Koreans can objectively (or at least, somewhat reasonably) assess their leaders. But I wonder if there will enough time, I recently read that Koreans will become extinct by the year 2750.

5) Bias of historians... Yes, I'm always willing to believe that one...

6) Strict criteria...yes, good point... I have noted this one before, that even one flaw in a political leader (especially when it is an opponent) means the person is flawed and illegitimate, resulting in all Korean leaders as being regarded as criminals.

As another aside: 730 streets named after MLK. As Chris Rock, if you know someone on MLK, just say one word: "Run!" That's because many of those MLK street are in dangerous neighborhoods. Proving that Shakespeare (or whoever wrote it) had it right: "What's in a name?"


2749 is going to be a hell of a year in Korea

Headline: Koreans 'to Become Extinct in 2750'

My observation: 2749 is going to be one hell of a year!

* Fights about who let that happen
* Numerous investigations and hearings by the National Assembly about which political party is to blame
* Calls for the president to resign to take responsibility
* Protests by the handful of Koreans remaining against the other handful of Koreans remaining
* Conspiracy theories about Japan plotting since 1910 when it colonized Korea to cause Koreans to go extinct, etc...

2-7-4-9, Party Over, Oops, Out of Time!