Seira Yun: Leaving it all on the floor

Seira Yun: Leaving it all on the floor


The ‘Humans of Socious’ series showcases the stories of changemakers who share their journeys, struggles, and passions with candor. In Episode 2, we meet Seira Yun, founder of Socious, who shares his personal story with raw honesty. Tune in to discover the journey that led him to where he is today. Trigger Warning: This article contains potentially triggering topics. Please practice self-care and take breaks as needed.

Early childhood

Looking back, I think I was a weird kid. I was 4 or 5 when my parents took me to a ski resort, and they left me at the bottom of the slope while they skied. 

There I saw a wall of snow about three meters high, and I sprinted toward the wall and banged my head. Sprint, bang, back up. For hours on end. 

For me, it was just part of my training. Somehow I believed that if I banged my head enough times, I could penetrate through the wall. 

Juna (Seira’s sister) and Seira

My weirdness didn’t stand out in kindergarten because every child is unique. I was born to a Korean mother and a Japanese father and grew up in the industrial city of Kawasaki, just outside of Tokyo. 

I went to a kindergarten run by a Korean church. My peers and teachers were primarily Korean, some Japanese, Filipino, and Brazilian. 

Everyone, including Japanese peers, greeted each other with “annyeong” (‘hello’ in Korean). I remember learning songs in Korean, Japanese, Tagalog, and Portuguese. Being different was normal. 

At kindergarten, we unleashed our creativity and invented new ways of playing. 

One day, we head to a nearby park. Two of my peers and I pick up dandelion flowers. We return to the kindergarten, and all three of us get down on one knee in front of our Brazilian classmate Bianca*. Beaming, we say, “Will you marry me?”

*not her real name


Elementary school

I went to a public elementary school literally across from my house. Unlike the kindergarten, 99% of the students were Japanese. Nobody said “annyeong”. 

My one-syllable last name Yun stood out among long Japanese last names. But it didn’t bother me. Back then, I was extroverted and made friends quickly. All I had to do was ask, “Do you wanna play together?” Most kids would say, “Of course! What should we do?” 

Kids are scary because they have no filters. One day, I got into a physical fight with a school friend. In the heat of the fight, he shoutedGo back to Korea!“. He never treated me differently before. After the fight, we reconciled and played together as if nothing had happened. I don’t think he had anything against Koreans. But I realized I was different. I didn’t want to be different. 

One day I asked my mom, Can I change my name to a Japanese one? She seemed shocked and sad. After a long pause, she explained, in the language that a 7-year-old can understand, the importance of keeping a Korean name for my grandfather. 

I don’t want you to forget about your grandpa who struggled so much in Japan. I only understood some of what she said. But it was clear that I couldn’t change my name. Being a positive, simple kid, I said, If I can’t be nihonjin (Japanese), I will just be sekaijin*” 

*literally “world person” or “global citizen”. 

Elementary school

Great people, horrible parents

I always wished that my parents were someone else’s parents because I would have had nothing but respect for them. 

They argued every single day. As my sister and I got older, we got into arguments and physical fights with them. I avoided interacting with my parents as much as possible because it always ended up in an argument. 

Ever since I was 10, I would run away from home and come back the next day. My sister is four years older than me and is always four steps ahead of me. When she ran away, she was gone for months. 

One time, we almost made the evening news headlines. 

My sister is having an intense fight with my parents. She suddenly runs to the kitchen and picks up a long Sashimi knife. She points the knife at my mom and screams, “I WILL KILL YOUUUU!”.

Seira with his parents and grandmother

Junior high school

Having issues at home was common in our neighborhood. My family’s situation was probably better than what many of my peers experienced. Many classmates had a missing parent or two, or a parent they wished would go missing. All the frustrations at home would explode at school. 

I went to the closest public junior high school after finishing elementary school. There, a fight would erupt somewhere every single day. 

There were fights between students and between students and teachers. I’ll never forget the day when Ueda-sensei, our math teacher, grabbed my friend Kazuto by the throat and shouted, “YOU ARE THE ONE WHO SHOULD DIE!” I just stood there, frozen in fear, as my friend struggled to breath. 

Children are good at detecting who is strong and who is weak. I was weak and became a target of bullying. Just thinking about it makes me nauseous still today. 

Every morning, I would wake up to a headache that clouded my thoughts and made it difficult to get out of bed. As I got closer to school, my stomach would twist in pain and anxiety. I would eat lunch alone and throw up into the toilet bowl. I can hardly recall a time when I laughed during this period of my life. Once a talkative and happy child, I now find myself reserved and emotionally detached.

I was later diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but I still wonder whether I had ASD all along or whether I somehow acquired traits associated with ASD.


By the second year of junior high school, many of my classmates had fallen into delinquency. They started smoking and shoplifting. Some played a sick game called ‘pu-shu’ (pu-taro shugeki – attack homeless people). 

My classmate Kanako* didn’t have a chance. She was a child prodigy in elementary school. Every time she wrote an essay, she’d win an award. The last time I heard about her, she was selling her body. Delinquency might have been their coping mechanism or their way of saying, “Hey look, I need some help here!” 

I was vulnerable and easily influenced by my peers. Before long, shoplifting became a habit, and I found myself getting into frequent fights. 

One day, the all-school announcement went, “Seira Yun, please report to the principal’s office. Now!” As I walked out of the classroom, I could feel the gaze of my classmates as if they were saying, “It’s him again”. 

And they were right – I had stolen 10kg dumbbells from a public gym the day before. When my mother arrived at the principal’s office she repeated, “I am sorry. He will never do it again”. After a short while, I injured a classmate in a fight, and my parents were back at the principal’s office to apologize. Again and again.

*Not her real name

Edge of the platform

At 14, I began to have suicidal thoughts. I was tired of suffering and wanted it to end. I wanted to escape. Sometimes, while waiting for trains, I would find myself drawn to the edge of the platform, tempted by the thought of being free.  

If there is one person who saved my life, that would be the school nurse. 

One day, she made a short speech at a school assembly, “You can do whatever you want in your life, but please don’t take your own life. I beg you.” Her voice trembled with emotion and tears welled up in her eyes. She didn’t say anything else. She left the microphone and walked off. 

I was not close to her, but her words moved me. Whenever I considered taking my own life, I remembered her words and lived another day.

When I play basketball, nothing matters

Despite everything that was happening, I still kept going to school because of basketball. I skipped many days of school but never missed a day of basketball practice. 

When I play basketball, nothing matters. On the basketball court, my Korean name, bullying, and problems at home. They don’t matter anymore. Everything goes away. 


I made great friends through basketball, like Yuma. I met Yuma for the first time when I was 10. We would play football at a local club every Wednesday. 

We were not close back then because we went to different elementary schools. When we became teammates on the junior high school basketball team, we spent almost every day playing basketball together.  

Yuma was special. Sure, he was tall and strong, but his work ethic and mental strength made him extraordinary. He didn’t play ball in elementary school, so he was a bit clumsy when he first joined the team. 

Ryuji and I, who played in elementary school, were better than him. But he always left everything on the floor. Every single practice. Every single game. He would fall asleep with his ball while practicing in bed. Soon enough, Yuma became the best player on the team.

Yuma never met his dad. He grew up with his mother, Fumi-chan. She was always funny and energetic. At the time, they lived with Fumi-chan’s boyfriend, Take. Fumi-chan and Take never missed our games. They were the loudest people in the crowd, cheering for Yuma and his teammates, “Go Yuma! Go Seira!” They would sometimes take us to watch high school basketball games or to a court where we could play ball. 

When we were in the 9th grade, Take disappeared. One day. Just gone. He didn’t even leave a note. Fumi-chan was devastated. But Yuma was strong. He just told her, “It’s ok because you have me.” 

They would face financial difficulties, but Yuma never complained or let himself be a victim. On and off the court. Whenever I got whiny after losing a game, he’d always say, “Don’t waste your time thinking about what you could have done. Focus on what you can do now”.

Yuma and Seira playing basketball

High school in Yokohama

As soon as I started junior high school, I begged my parents to send me to the US. I wanted to escape from my family and Japan, where nothing seemed to work. I wanted to play basketball in the US. 

After years of begging, they said, We’ll consider it only if you still want to go to America after one year of high school in Japan. Upon graduating junior high school, I went to a public high school in Yokohama because they had a decent basketball program. I also wanted to get out of Kawasaki where people knew my shameful past. 

On the first day of school, I was scared. I was scared of being bullied again. So I made myself as intimidating as possible. I glared at everyone menacingly until they looked away. I was a huge success because no one talked to me. I believe those who appear intimidating are the most scared; they show off big guns to hide how tiny they feel inside.  

After a while, I realized something strange in this school. There was no fighting! The school was so peaceful, and my classmates were genuinely nice. After a few months of being “that weird kid from Kawasaki,” I lowered my guard, made friends with basketball teammates, and laughed again.    

In the meantime, Yuma was making the impossible possible. Yuma went to one of the best basketball programs in the country as a walk-on. Everyone on the roster was recruited from top junior high schools all over Japan. He was not even on the bench in the first year. 

Everyone thought Yuma could not get meaningful playing minutes among the recruited guys. By his senior year, he was a starter.

Going to America

I still wanted to go to America. While I was having a great time in school, I wanted to live away from my parents. My sister had already moved out, so they had more time to argue with me. 

Per our deal, I completed one year of high school in Japan and left for the US. I said to myself, This is it! I will never live with my parents again.I was 16. 

I went to a high school in California. There, I was nobody. And I loved it. In Japan, my Korean name and social awkwardness stood out. In California, diversity was the norm. 

I look around the classroom, and I see different skin tones, cultures, and religions. I hear them speak in multiple languages. My classmates are proud of who they are and their unique passions. I feel freedom. It’s ok to be different because everyone is different. In America, I am just one of many fresh-off-the-boat Asians. 

I struggled with English. I didn’t understand anyone. They didn’t understand me. Especially native speakers were the toughest. They speak too fast, their pronunciation too good! 

I am forever grateful for my friends – many were Asians who had come to America a few years before me – who patiently helped me with schoolwork. They were mostly from Korea, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Weirdly, we Asians don’t get along back in Asia. In America, we bonded over our shared experience and appreciation for rice and chopsticks.  

In America, I could play basketball anytime, anywhere. Unlike in Japan, there are basketball courts every several blocks. I met great friends and teachers. Of course, America has its issues, but I felt comfortable being me. 

I was fascinated by the diverse backgrounds and experiences of my classmates and loved learning from their ideas and opinions. I became curious about their cultures and languages. America was my home, and I was determined to stay.

With high school friends


I loved basketball, but basketball didn’t love me back. After all, I was just a sixth man on a D4 high school team. Also, my grades and SAT scores were not good enough to get a scholarship to go to university. So I decided to go to a junior college in the area. 

I worked at a ramen shop and a sushi restaurant. These two jobs made me enough money to pay the tuition and the rent in a shared apartment. My goal then was to become a trainer and work for an NBA team. I was happy with my independence. 

The junior college was even more diverse than high school. I admired John*, who was 50 years old and dyslexic. He thrived in English Literature class. I became great friends with Santos, a rambunctious guy from Mexico, undocumented. He taught me many things because it was his 7th year at the college.

Yuma was still pursuing his dream of playing in the NBA. He would beg Fumi-chan to send him to America. Fumi-chan would say, We don’t have money“. But Yuma never gave up. Every day, he would do dogeza – placing his head and both needs on the ground – and beg her. 

But Yuma also had concerns for Fumi-chan. Yuma shared his worries with a teacher about how going to the US would leave his mother alone and be an emotional and financial burden. He thought maybe he shouldn’t pursue his dream. Upon hearing this, Fumi-chan made the decision to send Yuma to America. 

Fumi-chan got a part-time job at a bar in addition to her full-time job at a pachinko parlor. Meanwhile, Yuma started working at a gas station. With some borrowed money, Yuma set off for university in Oklahoma. At the airport, Fumi-chan couldn’t stop crying. But Yuma comforted her, saying, “Don’t cry, this isn’t the final farewell.”

*Not his real name

Punctured lung

I had no car, so I would cycle between work, home, and JUCO. I would skip some meals to save money. While it was physically tough, I was mentally ok. But after three months, my body wasn’t. 

One day, I come home from work at the sushi restaurant. It’s around 11 pm, and I am so hungry and sleepy at the same time. I hesitate between eating and sleeping. I remember the box of leftover rice from work, so I grab it with my bare hands and chuck it into my mouth. 

I choke and cough heavily. Suddenly, I feel pressure on my chest, and it’s hard to breathe. “Is this a heart attack?” I can’t go to the hospital because it’s too expensive. I just tell myself, “It will be better tomorrow”.

It didn’t get better the next day or the day after. On the third day, I found out that the college clinic offered free consultations for students. During the exam, the doctor listened to my chest and said, “I can’t hear anything from your left lung. You might have pneumonia”. I thought I inhaled rice.  

Spontaneous pneumothorax. A fancy way to say punctured lung. That’s what they told me at the hospital. I had surgery and was discharged after ten days of hospitalization. While at the hospital, I had free access to Vicodin to relieve my pain. It was tempting to take the easy way out with just one click. 

Throughout my life, I have battled with occasional depressive episodes that began back in junior high school. It’s something that comes and goes. I occasionally smoked weed and did other stuff during depressive episodes. They were much more accessible in the US, and everyone else was doing it. During and after the hospitalization, I used a lot of Vicodin.

Mental institution

Several days after being discharged from the hospital, I received a phone call from Yuma,I am coming to California to play basketball.” I was so excited to play ball with Yuma again. 

I experienced a period of depression after the discharge. But then, my mood suddenly shifted. I became really happy. I felt a jolt of energy inside me. All of a sudden, different kinds of thoughts came to me all at once. 

I became incredibly talkative, laughing and joking around with my friends. Despite not sleeping for a week, I felt full of energy. At one point, I even felt as if the world didn’t exist, as if it was just a long dream. I thought the world was ending and told everyone about it.  

I was called to the college clinic. The same one I had visited a few weeks earlier for my lung. This time, a doctor and a lady from the administration asked me weird questions, while two security guards stood behind me. 

“What date is today?” 

“October 18th, 2007.” 

After several questions, the lady makes a phone call to someone. She turns to me and says, “you’re not going home today.” 

Two police officers come into the room and carry me to their vehicle. I am not resisting, but they still tie me to the stretcher. I am staring at the car’s ceiling all the way to the mental institution. 

Upon arrival, the guard looks into my mouth and ears. 

He tells me to take all my clothes off. 

“I need to make sure there is nothing inside.”

I spread my legs apart and bend over. 

The higher the high, the lower the low

Following my release from the mental institution, I plunged into the deepest depressive episode of my life. I was so tired that I could barely get up to go to the toilet. I struggled to sleep. The suicidal thoughts came back. 

Weirdly, bad things seem to happen all at once. A few weeks after my release, my mom called me. “Yuma had a car accident in Oklahoma. We don’t have many details, but you should go.” I didn’t know what was going on. Everything seemed surreal. On the same day, I flew to Tulsa, Oklahoma.  

I arrived at the hospital and found Yuma in a dark, cold room, all by himself. I couldn’t see any scars on his body, just some bandages wrapped around his head. He looked peaceful as if he was asleep. I held his big hand and reassured him, “Don’t worry. We’ll rehab together, and you will be back on the court soon.” 

The following day, Fumi-chan arrived.  We shared a long hug, and she said, “Thank you for being with Yuma.” She was much smaller than I remembered. 

My primary role was to facilitate communication between Fumi-chan and the hospital staff. But I soon realized that I was the world’s worst interpreter. 

The doctor would say, “The situation is getting worse. We are doing everything we can, but it’s not looking good.” 

I would tell Fumi-chan, “Everything’s gonna be alright. He is getting better, and he can play basketball soon.” 

I believed that if I repeated “everything’s gonna be alright” enough times, it would become true. 

Fumi-chan noticed that Yuma’s condition was deteriorating. 

Her request to the doctor progressively changed from “Please let him play basketball again. It’s the only thing he has.” to “I don’t care if he can’t play basketball or he can’t walk, and I don’t even care if he becomes a vegetable. But please save him. Only his life.”   

Some people are selfishly religious. They pray only when they want something from God. I prayed every day at the hospital. 

“Dear God, please save Yuma. I’ll do anything. Please forgive me for all the sins I’ve committed. Yuma did nothing wrong. Let him go to the NBA and make Fumi-chan happy. They have only each other. He can’t die now. He is not ready to go yet, but I am. Please take me instead.” 

Up until this moment, Yuma lived the “God will never give you more than you can handle” approach to life. Nothing was impossible for Yuma. 

I thought this latest trial would become another classic Yuma story. But I was wrong. Yuma died on November 19th, 2007, after nine days of battle. 

Leaving America

I returned to California. The junior college notified me that they’d expelled me. Because my visa depended on my student status, I received a deportation order. 

At this point, I didn’t care much about leaving America. I wanted to go back to Japan and support Fumi-chan as much as possible. America was no longer my home. I got a one-way ticket and was back in Japan before Christmas.    

You are not alone

I returned to my parents’ apartment in Japan with no money, degree, or job. All I had was my depression and a shameful past. 

I spent a lot of time with Fumi-chan during this period. Mainly to ensure she wouldn’t take her own life. But also to prevent myself from taking my own life. 

While battling severe depression, I started to think about life. The meaning of life. What to do with my life. 

Throughout my life, I’ve been running away. 

Running away from home, Kawasaki, and Japan. 

I’ve always blamed everyone but myself. 

Blamed my parents, bullies, and circumstances.

I am a coward. 

I wanted to run away from my shameful life. 

Yuma never ran away from obstacles. 

He always ran headfirst into the wall of adversity and always managed to penetrate through it.

Yuma never blamed others or circumstances. 

He just focused on improving his craft. 

He wanted to live. 

And yet, Yuma died and I survived.

Why is life so unfair? 

It would have been better for everyone and the world if I had died instead of Yuma. 

What’s the meaning of my life? 

What’s the meaning of Yuma’s life? 

Maybe there is meaning. 

If I can have even a fraction of Yuma’s courage to run headfirst into the wall rather than running away from it,

If I can tell Yuma’s story to inspire others,

If I can make a positive impact on people’s lives as Yuma always did,

Maybe there is a purpose to my existence after all.

Maybe this is why I am meant to live. 

Maybe Yuma’s life will be more meaningful. 

I want to have a positive impact on the world.

I want to make a difference in the lives of people who struggle. 

It’s for selfish reasons. 

When I see people struggling, 

I see myself. 

I see my sister. 

I see Yuma. 

I see Fumi-chan. 

I just wanna hug them and tell them, 

“You are not alone.” 

One step at a time

I began volunteering at a non-profit where I taught Japanese to children from foreign countries such as China, India, and the Philippines. I spent more time breaking up fights than teaching Japanese. Many kids came to Japan only because of their parents’ work. They were frustrated. 

I also took a job with a moving company. While the pay was decent, saving money as a day laborer was hard. We carried refrigerators and washing machines all day long. At the end of each workday, we received 10,000 yen ($75) in cash. Because we were so tired after work, someone always suggested, “Hey, let’s go drink!”. We would go to an izakaya and spend 5,000 yen on beer and sake.

Luckily, I am socially awkward and only went out for drinks once. Many of my colleagues had been doing this daily routine for years or even decades. 

I wanted to work for international organizations like the UN and the Red Cross. I thought that was the most impactful thing you could do at the time. You need a master’s degree for that. I started preparing for a bachelor’s degree. One step at a time. 

For the first time in my life, I studied for real. It was a long shot, but I got accepted to a university in Tokyo. I was 20 years old. 

When you are slow, you gotta keep running

While I was a few years older than most of my peers at university, I was so behind them. My peers would say things like “Kant said…” “According to Marx…” and “Sartre claims…” I felt embarrassed that I didn’t know any of these people. 

I was also a slow reader and a slow learner. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I wished I had paid more attention in class instead of shoplifting. But I said to myself, “Just focus on what I can do now.” 

Like how I learned how to dribble, pass, and shoot, I kept working on reading, writing, and learning. Probably not the most efficient way of learning. I just repeated the practice day in and day out.  

At the time, my life consisted of classes, volunteering, part-time jobs, and traveling. I made friends with kind and talented classmates. Upon graduation, I got a scholarship for a master’s degree in International Law in Geneva. 

With university friends


Labels are scary because not only do they change how others think about us, but they also affect how we think about ourselves. 

I was afraid of people discovering my history of bipolar disorder and detention at a mental institution. I often kept my thoughts to myself because I was scared people would think I was crazy. I was too ashamed to seek help and tried to hide it for a long time. 

In Geneva, I had a huge crush on this incredible person with unlimited kindness and God-given intelligence. He happened to be a man. Love is hard because we can’t choose who we love or how people might define us for it. 

I was afraid once again. The label that had been used to describe others was now attached to me, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I worried about working in conflict-affected countries where people with diverse sexual orientations were often discriminated against. Back then, I couldn’t tell him how I felt. 

It was much later in my life that I felt more comfortable being myself and opening up. Only after seeing many brave individuals share their experiences, I felt inspired to do the same. 

I feel like a burden has been lifted off my shoulders. When I share my experiences, many people say, “me too.” It’s not just my story but a shared human story. We’re all in this game together—the game of being human.

Humanitarian work

After earning a master’s degree and completing several years of unpaid internships, I finally landed my first paid job at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon. 

I eventually joined the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which took me to Algeria, Iraq, and Bangladesh. I had the privilege of working with and for individuals who have been through tremendous struggles in life, from those who have fled armed conflict to those who have been detained. 

Along the way, I met incredible people from whom I learned so much and made lifelong friends I truly respect. Throughout my humanitarian career, I played many different roles depending on the needs on the ground. 

But I feel like I was doing the same thing every time: reminding people that “There are always people who care about you just because you are human.”

With Red Cross colleagues and friends

Social entrepreneurship

Every problem requires a tailored solution. While humanitarian work is necessary for emergencies, relying on donations may not be the most effective approach for achieving long-term, systemic change. I decided to give social entrepreneurship a try. 

In 2019, I founded my first social venture. Together with my talented colleagues, who had refugee or migrant backgrounds, we strived to build a more inclusive world. We aimed to revitalize rural communities through digital marketing in foreign languages, enabling greater accessibility and inclusivity.

Social entrepreneurship is hard. I struggled to secure funding and hire talent who shared our mission in order to grow our impact. Many of my peers faced the same challenges. 

On the other hand, I also realized that many young people are eager to apply their skills towards social and environmental causes, but they haven’t had the chance to do so. If we can unlock this untapped potential, the impact will be huge. That’s why I started Socious. 

At Socious, I have the privilege of working with truly inspiring individuals. They are driven by their passion for impact, incredibly talented, and always full of energy. 

What’s amazing is that my colleagues create a chain reaction of positivity that spreads throughout the entire organization. Their infectious enthusiasm drives everyone to strive for excellence. They make us feel like “We can do it.” But the best part? It’s so much fun! If we can replicate this chain reaction everywhere, I believe we can create systemic change. 

The Socious team


I am just a weird kid from Kawasaki. I feel extremely privileged and fortunate. Yes, I am still socially awkward, I am still slow, and I still have depressive episodes sometimes. 

But I have two lovely children, an amazing partner, friends who care about me, and colleagues who share the same passion for making a difference. 

My studies and humanitarian work allowed me to travel around the world. Along the way, I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with truly exceptional human beings who have left a mark on my life. 

Today, we live close to my parents, who happen to be wonderful grandparents. Fumi-chan remarried and still lives in Kawasaki. 

I am grateful for the many people who have supported me throughout this journey. Life has been unpredictable, and I look forward to what’s to come because I have so much work to do. 

I am taking it one day at a time. When it comes time for me to join Yuma, I will be so happy if he says, “I am proud of you. You left everything on the floor.” 

Family photo