Millennial Views on Trade: Sylvia Lingyuan Sun

In this ongoing series, we ask current and former students of trade about their views and experiences with international trade, negotiation simulations, and globalization. In the first installment, we interview Sylvia Lingyuan Sun, a 2017 Masters of Science in Foreign Service graduate from Georgetown University and a former student of Consensus founder Professor Andrea Durkin.

On Views of Globalization

I think it’s hard to say whether globalization is good or bad. It’s a kind of force of nature that’s causing changes in everyone’s lives, mine no less than others. My life has been shaped in a lot of big ways by globalization.

Growing up in Beijing, I had limited exposure to the wider world. I wanted to see a bit more, so I decided to go to Hong Kong for college, studying international politics at Hong Kong University. Hong Kong is an international city and my experience there made a significant impression on me. I had the chance to study abroad in Tokyo to learn Japanese, and also did a semester in Cambridge. The most impactful experience I had was traveling to India to teach English. Seeing all these different sides, particularly the challenges of developing countries, started me down the road of impact investment. I’ve lived in the US for several years now, getting my Masters degree, and I’m on my way to England to work for Bloomberg. Even as I prepare to send my things by ship (the cheapest option), I’m filing paperwork to clear customs without having to pay huge fees — that’s a globalization story itself.

On Trade and Career Prospects

Trade has already been a major influence on my life, and I expect it will continue to play a role in my career as well. I’ve always been interested in public policy and international affairs. After volunteering in India when I was a freshman in college, I saw the impacts of globalization, and wanted to work towards helping economic development. Through my work and studies, I have realized that one of the best ways to drive that development is through trade and investment. My goal is to work in the field of impact investment, where investments are targeted towards organizations that provide social benefits as well as returns.

On Participating in Trade Negotiation Simulations

Like most students, I haven’t had real-life experience in multi-party negotiations. That was one of the reasons I was so excited to do a negotiation simulation like the ones I did during my master’s classes on trade policy. I was excited not so much about the specific outcomes we might have from the negotiations, but from learning the process and figuring out how this works. It was a great opportunity to observe how these dynamics work, and from it I had two big takeaways.

First, I learned that formality and procedure can impact the way negotiations unfold. In a formal meeting, you have to raise your placard to speak, and there is a chairperson who makes the decisions on who gets to talk and when. I felt it had a really good effect of keeping the negotiations civilized and ordered. Obviously, we were just simulating, but people can get worked up and even a little emotional about their positions. For example, in one simulation we negotiated over EU regulations on hen cage sizes. Even though we were playing roles, some people got very passionate about fighting animal cruelty. Having myself lived in some of the countries these classmates were representing, I can say they were true to form – this is a hot-button issue. The procedures of the negotiation help constrain this so that disagreeing parties can talk, rather than just shout at each other and get nothing done.

Second, I realized just how challenging it is to compromise. Having stepped into the negotiator’s shoes, I’ve started to really appreciate the difficulty of being in that position. You have to represent the best interests of your country, but how would you define the best interests? Your country can have many interests, and to get a deal, you can’t get everything you want. It’s very challenging to know where to give and where to hold, what issues you can let the other side have in the interest of making a deal while still faithfully representing your constituents.

On Skills Gained from Negotiation Simulations

Honing negotiation skills in general is extremely useful. Starting my career, I’ve had to negotiate a lot of things – my start date and salary at my new job, for example. Having the ability to practice that is a great exercise for real life. It’s applicable not just in trade deals, but really in any deals where you have interests you want to represent and an agenda you need to get through.

Also, just to understand more about trade issues, and how hard negotiating them is has informed me a lot. When I hear criticisms of trade deals, saying they’re “the worst deal in history,” I can say with some confidence that until you sit at the negotiating table in complex multi-party talks, you don’t really understand.

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