Shin was born in Korea. His birth mother died when he was four and he was abandoned to the care of his grandmother by his father. He ran away from home and his village to live as a street child in Seoul to escape discrimination as an orphan and aged 15 was taken on as a houseboy by a US serviceman during the Korean War.
When he was nearly 18 he was adopted by a US Army dentist, Dr. Ray Paull, and emigrated to the USA. His new family included three brothers and their mother. He had had no education at all in Korea, and was too old for American schools, but studying with a tutor and his parents he completed a GED in only 18 months and continued on to gain a PhD from the University of Washington.
He became a university teacher and served in the Washington State House of Representatives in 1993-94, and is currently the state senator for Western Snohomish County.
He and his wife are also adoptive parents.
He returned to Korea as an adult and traced his birth father and brought him, his new wife and their children all to the US to live. He is active in adoption matters, especially working with other Korean-American adoptees.