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) Make sure you have read all of the FAQs above and below! 2) Fill out a TNKR Teacher Volunteer Application here:  http://goo.gl/forms/tWzTw6Ci1D  3) We can only take so many volunteers per matching session so look for a confirmation email from TNKR.Secretary@gmail.com, if you are confirmed you will be asked to reply with a resume.  4) Join the Facebook group for updates, join the particular Facebook Event page for the matching session you plan to join, and friend me! 5) The day before your session, look for and reply to a confirmation email from TNKR.Secretary@gmail.com we just want to make sure you didn't forget! 

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.

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.

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