Yul Kwon, From Bullying Target To Reality TV Star

Being A Target Of Bullying

Kwon’s early life involved a host of challenges. He was born in 1975 in New York to South Korean immigrants. He tells Tell Me More host Michel Martin he had a severe lisp as a kid, so many people assumed he was a foreigner who could not speak English properly. Kwon says he grew increasingly quiet to avoid being teased or beaten up.

“But as people who’ve been bullied are well aware, the more quiet you are, the more you attract bullies,” he says. “And it started to be a real problem for me. I started to develop a number of social anxiety disorders.”

Kwon says these issues continued for many years, partly because he did not see many role models from his community. He watched a lot of television (as a way to learn English), and in the rare times when he did see Asian-Americans onscreen, they were portrayed in negative stereotypes.

“If you’re a guy, you’re either a Chinese cook, or a gangster, or a Kung Fu master who could kick butt but can’t speak English, or a geek who can’t get a date,” says Kwon. “And so, over time, I think I just internalized a lot of these images and I became that quintessential Asian-American.”

Despite a difficult childhood, Kwon went on to earn a bachelor’s in symbolic systems from Stanford University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He also earned a juris doctorate from Yale Law School, where he served on the editorial board of the Yale Law Journal. He worked in law, politics and business, then made what some would consider a surprising shift to television.

Read More About Yuk Kwon on NPR

Yul Kwon-Media and Why I Went on “Survivor”

Yul Kwon, winner of “Survivor: Cook Islands” talks about the importance of seeing Asian characters on television. See what other celebrities have to say about being Asian American at YouTube.com/asiasociety.

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