Seoul International Women’s Association President Sophia Barry
Shots by Chris Mimmock
Sophia Barry has a wide range of past experiences. A Brit, she grew up in Yorkshire. Most recently, she lived in Nigeria working as procurement manager for Shell Oil. That’s where she met her Venezuelan husband, Francisco. First came the move to Ulsan before finally arriving in Seoul only 5 months ago, and thanks to the 10 Magazine in her serviced residence, she found the Seoul International Women’s Association right away. She almost immediately signed on to be the Bazaar Chairperson, and after a sudden departure of the previous president, Sophia stepped in to save the day and help SIWA and their amazing Bazaar stay on track.
1. What brought you to Korea?
Initially it was Francisco’s engineering job when his project transferred from Lagos to Ulsan, South Korea in early 2013. We had met in Lagos the year before while I was on my first overseas experience working as a Procurement Manager. I took employment in Ulsan immediately as an Accountant and so our adventures in Korea began..
2. You haven’t been here that long. How do you find life in Korea so far?
My colleagues were Korean in Ulsan were so kind to quickly embrace and help me to integrate into the culture. Within my first week I had experienced many local dishes and had even been taught a few survival words!
When I moved to Seoul I embraced the International ladies organisation I had been craving for in Ulsan, this has expanded my social life and given me the opportunity to explore my interests.
3. What are some of the most notable differences between life in Korea and life in Nigeria?
Korea has the fastest technology – from parking towers to super fast internet! In Nigeria we lived more in the expat ‘bubble’, whereas in Korea we can happily go to local restaurants and enjoy the city just as Koreans do. Of course, both have the characteristics of any mega city – traffic jams! Seoul has blown me away with the subway system- it’s so foreigner friendly I zip around all over the city with no difficulties at all.
4. What is SIWA and what do they do?
SIWA stands for Seoul International Women’s Association and it is a non-profit organisation which provides a home for members to make friends, feel part of a group and have the opportunity for enrichment and charity work. SIWA is unique as it has members from over 40 different countries so we have the chance to learn about other cultures and countries. For example, our International Culinary Exchange program lets us hear about a country’s particular culture while trying their delicious food!
I enjoy the monthly coffee mornings as a regular social gathering, while the recent enrichment class sign up was such a success for members sharing their skills with fellow members that we are already preparing for the January classes! Many enjoy our tours which are a fun way to explore the city and get tips from fellow Seoulites.
5. What are some of the challenges for SIWA, and steps taken to overcome those challenges?
I think the main challenge for SIWA, is the transient environment that much of the International community lives in. This is in some ways a blessing as we are always welcoming new faces bringing with them fresh ideas and contributions. On the other hand, we are often very sad to say goodbye to members and volunteers who become our friends. In fact, SIWA changes the board annually, which keeps a lively mix to the organisation. We overcome this as any organisation, by having procedures to ensure consistency and to keep our standards high. SIWA has the added benefit of being such a well established organisation and having a strong reputation that our events continue to be successful year after year.
6. What do you hope to accomplish with your tenure as president of SIWA?
Following the Bazaar, once the final count has been made of the wonderful funds raised, I will be focusing on our welfare committee and the contribution to be made to Korean Charities.
7. This SIWA Bazaar is one of the biggest events in the foreign community – but you’ve never been to one! Has this made it difficult to organize?
I feel I have brought ‘fresh eyes’ to the process, so perhaps questioned some areas that had been done that way ‘because it always has been’ and tweaked some areas. I have also had a strong mentor, Mrs. Bockhee Lee our VP Fundraising, who has guided me the entire way and shared many lively discussions with me. Bockhee has been with SIWA over 10 years and been a Bazaar Chair herself in 2012, so I have been in good hands. In the SIWA archives there are records and photos for many pas Bazaars which has helped the picture in my mind of how the day will be.
8. What other challenges have you found with heading up a strictly volunteer organization?
This is my first experience outside of the Corporate world, and I am fascinated in the factors which motivate volunteers to be so dedicated and work so hard. For me, leading by example is first in my tool box – I literally roll up my sleeves and get stuck in. Next it has to be energy and enthusiasm for our task- this is not something than can be forged, so its a true testament of believing in a cause that makes us strive for excellence.
For me, the rewards of being in this voluntary organisation are higher in value than any salary, and from what I see of the quality of the contributions of my fellow SIWA ladies, I am not alone in feeling that. I am fulfilled and stimulated by the events we are producing and progress being made in a friendly and welcoming environment.
9. What are some of your hobbies or passions outside of your role as President of SIWA?
My passion has always been looking after horses and horse riding up until I moved out of my home town in Yorkshire 4 years ago. I was a keen equestrian and competed in many local showjumping events. Nowadays I keep my feet more on the floor, and have taken the opportunity to travel and explore different countries and cultures with my husband.
10. How can people get involved or contribute to SIWA?
Being involved can start as simply as participating as a member at any of our many events – book club, yours or coffee mornings. For those who are looking for more and to contribute, there are a variety of positions – temporary and project-focused committees (ie. the Bazaar, Gala or Enrichment Team) to ongoing board and supporting positions within standing committees such as Welfare, Treasurer, Hospitality, Tours or Administration.
Visit the SIWA homepage for more information on getting involved.