Siblings from Korea share how a vacation to Hawaii helped them stumble upon BYU–Hawaii and changed their lives
Written by
Will Krueger
Seon Woong Hwang and his sister Joo Young Hwang.
Image By
Chad Hsieh

The Hwang family was vacationing in Hawaii. They were enjoying their trip and on their second to last day, they happened to be on the North Shore and met BYU–Hawaii students in Foodland. The students told them about the university and the Hwangs decided to visit.

Joo Young Hwang, a freshman majoring in supply chain and her brother, Seon Woong Hwang, a freshman majoring in biology, are from South Korea. They said their trip resulted in them joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a year later becoming students at the school.

Joo Young said, “My brother wasn’t planning to attend any university. I was planning to go to a university in Korea. We didn’t even know about the Church. After visiting here, everything changed. I feel like God led us here and guided us along the entire way.”

According to Seon Woong, “We ended up here at BYUH by complete chance, or fate. We came to Hawaii in Feb. 2018 for a family trip, and the second to last day of our trip, we visited the North Shore as a family.

“We went to Foodland and happened to meet two female students there. We didn’t know of the existence of this school so were curious that a university was on the North Shore. They told us the location of BYUH, and we decided to take a look shortly after.”

According to Seon Woong, his family was looking around the campus and ended up in the Aloha Center. They were trying to get information about the school from the help desk.

He said, “We couldn’t speak very good English at that time, but luckily there was a Korean student there, Seong-min Jo, who was able to help us and talk with my family and I.”

Seong-min Jo, a junior majoring in marketing from South Korea, said of meeting the Hwang’s, “I don’t usually go to the Aloha Center, but I felt like I should be there at that time. We happened to meet. They talked with me because I looked Korean. It was totally lucky.” Joo Young continued, “My family and I ended up talking with her for about seven hours, about the university and life here as a student in Hawaii, such as majors at the school and other things.

“We returned the next day to talk again with her, but this was to discuss the Church. We spent several hours talking to her about the Church and to learn more about it.”

First impressions of BYUH

Seon Woong remarked, “When I first entered into the school, I was so impressed by seeing all the different flags. I also saw the wall at the front of the school that had words inscribed that really impressed me. That sentence, ‘Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve,’ really inspired me.”

Continuing, Seon Weong shared a distinct impression he had, “People may not believe me, but I also could see an illusion of Jesus Christ above BYUH. I couldn’t see him literally, but I could feel him and his presence and that this school was blessed and is taken care of by the Lord.”

The standards and cleanliness of the school left lasting impressions to the Hwang family. “We actually saw another university in Honolulu while we were on vacation. I remember smelling alcohol, marijuana and being very disappointed that a university was like that. After learning about BYUH and the standards here, it left us with such a good impression. My parents were really impressed by that.”

According to Seon Woong, at the conclusion of the family’s vacation, the siblings said they excitedly returned to Korea and began looking for the Church. “We were both born Catholic. We even received Catholic names. We knew the existence of Jesus Christ and the love that he has for us and desired to know more about what we learned in Hawaii.”

Conversion to the Gospel

Looking for the Church online, Seon Woong found a phone number and called right away. He talked with someone and was able to find a church to attend in Korea and went as soon as they could.

Seon Woong was baptized on May 6, 2018, less than three months after returning from Hawaii. He baptized his sister, Joo Young, on July 29, 2018. Young said she took a little longer than her brother because she was very busy with school and also wanted him to baptize her.

Hwang’s parents were not baptized, but their children said they are supportive. Seon Woong shared he often shares the gospel with them and tries to teach them about the Church.

After his compulsory military service, Seon Woong hopes to serve a mission. Joo Young added she has recently considered serving a mission, and they have both read Preach My Gospel together.

Seon Woong said he attended institute in Korea for about a year and then went on to apply to attend BYUH with his sister.

Attending BYUH

According to Seon Woong, the opportunities offered by the school have blessed him immensely.

“I am really happy to be a BYU-Hawaii student. I work with SWAT, so I work on the farm with animals and with tools all day. I sometimes feel really tired, but I feel happy because I see the temple when I work. I like to read from the Gospel Library on my phone during my breaks.”

Seon Woong’s roommate, Rei Hattori, a freshman from Japan majoring in business management, said, “I feel like God led him here. He has a really interesting experience and coming here will have a really good effect on his family.”

Hattori continued, “I have learned a lot from my roommate. He already knows so much about the Church considering he’s so new to it. It’s inspiring. He is a fun and friendly guy and very interested in learning.”

Joo Young shared her experience at BYUH, “At first, I just wanted to focus on studying. But I have made so many friends and I love to hang out with [them]. They help me with my goals and to enjoy myself here and with school life.

“As a recent convert, religion classes have been a little bit harder to understand, but they have been very helpful for me to understand the Church more.”

The Hwangs said their parents have been happy and supportive of their children’s decisions. “They feel relieved about the standards of the school and know that we are taught well here in good environment.”

Date Published
June 18, 2019
Last Edited
June 18, 2019