The Young Scholars on the Silk Roads interview series seeks to empower young people, by giving youth a platform from which to transmit their voices. Via this series young scholars hailing from different countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia will be interviewed to share their research and reflections on the ancient Silk Roads.
Born in Seoul, Republic of Korea, Sulmi studied political science and specialized in international security. Since her first international experience in Tokyo about eight years ago, she has been moving around the world – Seoul, Tokyo, Washington DC, Paris, and Vienna – to meet more diverse young people from different cultures and learn from them. Peace in the Korean Peninsula, delivering stories of youth, and fighting for equality drive Sulmi and encourage her to keep moving forward.
Are the Silk Roads important to your country today? How so?
Sulmi: Definitely! During the era of the Silk Roads, the Korean Peninsula was a bridge that connected the continent and oceans and was a centre of exchange. Today South Korea strives to build its reputation as a bridge country and is aware of the historic importance of the Silk Roads.
Globally, do you think the Silk Roads holds value today?
That’s a really interesting question. As a result of technology, the world is so well-connected today, meaning that a message from South Korea can be shared in real time with people living in anywhere, and people know what is going on everywhere. We live in a global society like never before. The ancient Silk Roads facilitated exchange when previously there was no other way, whereas today we have infinite ways to exchange commodities and culture through the internet, not simply overland. So then, what value do the Silk Roads hold today?
The daily news tells us who lives where and what is going on, but “knowing” doesn’t necessarily translate to “understanding” one another. Violence and conflict continue to spread and efforts to understand and empathize are arguably more important now than ever before. In this regard, the Silk Roads still play a substantial role today as an arena where people can get to know each other through interactions and dialogues, not only virtually as technology permits, but also face-to-face.
What role can technology play in enhancing the possibilities of the Silk Roads?
Well, for example, when my Master’s in Paris ended in 2017, I decided to use technology to record the voices of youth that I met in Paris, in particular those who pursued political science. I wanted to preserve inspirational ideas from my young, ambitious fellow students. Technology and the internet were essential to this in the same way that they are essential to the UNESCO Young Scholars along the Silk Roads series, and other initiatives seeking to promote the Silk Roads.
Who exactly were the subjects of these interviews?
They were young graduates, ordinary students who haven’t made any substantial marks on history yet. I recorded their voices in the hope that the records will be a significant reference in the next 10 years, once they become the people they have envisioned to be. For now, they, and their stories, are trivial – so I named it “Trivial Records”- but how about in 10 years time?
That’s fantastic! Do you intend on following up with these young graduates in the future?
Yes, I do. I stopped blogging when I finished the 14th interview, but the project will resume in 2027, ten years after I started “Trivial Records”. I will visit each of them no matter where they will be and ask them very same questions I asked in the first instance.
You’re clearly not afraid to travel anywhere to pursue your ambitions! You’ve lived in the United States, South Korea, Japan, Austria and France for most of the past decade. How have you found living across the two continents?
It is definitely not easy to live across two very different continents. However, living in Europe was an absolutely terrific opportunity for me. Differences became a great chance for me to grow as a young Asian woman studying politics. Especially because I was studying with students from all over the world, their diversity became my inspiration.
Diversity is at the heart of the Silk Roads. What have you learnt most from these diverse student groups?
Diversity enabled me to see a bigger world than I had ever imagined before, and I strongly believe that the Silk Roads can be an answer to many questions that we have nowadays. Conflicting ideas and thoughts might seem chaotic at first, but the best resolution to chaos is always found when we look at situations from different people’s perspectives.