By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
For Paull Shin, fighting to survive has long been part of his DNA.
The University of Washington’s (UW) College of Arts and Sciences, in conjunction with the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, recently celebrated the former Washington State senator for his unwavering commitment to the school’s Korea Studies Program by renaming the program in his honor.
The idea for the renaming took seed seven years ago, when the UW faculty originally voted for it. Shin, who was elected to the Washington state House of Representatives in 1992, and also served as a Washington state senator from 1999 to 2014, asked UW faculty to delay the program renaming until he left office. Shin was the first Korean American to be elected to Washington state legislature. After he retired from office this past January due to having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the UW faculty made the program’s new name official in a celebration for Shin on Jun. 12.
Born in South Korea, Shin’s childhood had bleak beginnings. Orphaned at the age of four, Shin lived on the streets of Seoul, begging for food until the start of the Korean War in 1950. Once the war started, Shin became a houseboy to a group of U.S. Army officers.
In 1954, Ray Paull, an American dentist and one of the U.S. Army officers, adopted Shin and brought him back to Salt Lake City, Utah. There, Shin thrived in academics despite knowing little English, and he completed his GED in 18 months. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from Brigham Young University, a master’s of public and international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh, and a master’s and a PhD from the University of Washington.
“[Shin] has always had a passion for education,” said Young Sook Lim, assistant director at the Center for Korean Studies at UW. She has known Shin for several years due to their acquaintance and work in the local Korean community in Seattle.
“[Shin] grew up losing his Korean language and he sought a way to recover it,” said Lim about Shin’s initial involvement with the Korea Studies program at UW. “At the time, UW was a unique place to learn Korean language, and he started attending UW and redeveloping his interest in the culture and language.”
This, Lim says, led to Shin’s vested interest in education. He became a professor and taught history and education at Seattle Central and Shoreline Community Colleges. This also inspired him to campaign for UW’s Korea Studies program when it was in threat of being eliminated from the school’s cultural studies Shin helped cultivate the program’s presence at UW by taking on a central role in its development. He worked to promote the program both locally and abroad, and also passed legislation in Olympia that increased classroom instruction of culture and language of Korea and other Asian nations.
During his term as a state senator, Shin also sponsored a bill in the 2008-09 Washington state legislative session to create The UW Center for Human Rights, an organization dedicated to promoting, educating, and advancing human rights. Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the bill into law shortly after.
Over several years, Shin helped raise $4 million for UW’s Korean Studies Program. In a speech given at the program renaming celebration, it was noted that Shin intends to continue fundraising the remaining $6-$7 million needed in endowment for the program.
A biography about Shin is currently available. Originally translated from Korean and titled “An Exodus For Hope” in English, the book covers Shin’s rise from beggar to professor to state senator, and carries a message of perseverance and inspiration that Shin hopes will resonate in other people’s lives. (end)
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.