Graduates of Liahona School, a school in South Korea based on values of the Church who are now current students of BYU-Hawaii, said going to the church-based school was a wonderful opportunity to learn in a spiritual environment and prepare them to go to BYUH.
“The school blessed me a lot because it helped me so much in going on a mission then coming here to BYU-Hawaii. I was prepared a lot by Liahona School to come here in my spirituality and educational preparedness,” said Seong-min Jo, a senior majoring in business from South Korea and former student of Liahona School.
According to Jo, the private school was based in Seoul and it started off small with about six or seven students. The number grew to about 45 over the years, and was staffed with three teachers, who would teach a variety of subjects including English, science, math, the gospel and courses related to the Korean curriculum. Due to financial reasons and criteria changes from BYUH, the school is temporarily closed.
Founder of the school and BYUH alumnus Jeonghwan Hong said he had clear goals in mind when making the school for the Church youth of Korea. “I am so proud of the students doing as what Liahona School was seeking: to integrate both spiritual and academic learning and to prepare students to go to BYUH, a school founded by prophets and operated by the Church.”
Secular and spiritual learning
The school was founded in 2011 and Hong explained he founded the school to help LDS youth in Korea. “The Liahona School was founded on the idea that the school system in Korea can be quite rigorous and challenging and often LDS youth here have a hard time participating in church activities because of the demanding school work.
“The retention and activity rate among youth in Korea can be quite low. To solve this problem, I decided to found a Church-friendly school. The outcomes were very distinctive. Almost all students completed their four year seminary course and attended every church activity regularly.
Soo-jin Song, a freshman majoring in biology from South Korea, said the school was modeled after church schools in the U.S. and Seminary was taught in the school with frequent visits from missionaries. The school began every morning with a prayer meeting and had a mini-Missionary Training Center to help prospective missionaries prepare to serve a mission.
According to Song, students who went to the school, which has since closed, generally went with intent to eventually go on to a BYU school and the majority of the students who went to Liahona School ended up at a BYU school.
Jo explained the school had a number of facilities. Boys had dormitories on campus, girls typically lived in housing off-campus, there was a cafeteria, gym opportunities and social clubs for the students.
Spiritually prepared students
Hong noted many of his students went on to serve missions and attend BYUH or other CES schools. Around 75 students of the school [approximately 90 percent of graduates] have studied at BYUH since 2013.
Jo explained, “The founders of the school were both bishops. One of the presidents was a BYU-Hawaii facilitator who had connections around Korea and word about the school would get out through institute teachers, in Seminary and word-of-mouth.
“Once or twice a year, the school would be visited by someone from BYU–Hawaii who would give a presentation about BYU–Hawaii. We were encouraged to go to BYU–Hawaii because of the good atmosphere for international students and scholarship opportunities such as I-WORK.”
Jo said there are about 15 students currently at BYU-Hawaii, and others attending BYU-Idaho and BYU who went to Liahona School.
Attending school at the end of its operation, Joo Young Hwang, a freshman majoring in business from South Korea, said she was blessed to be able to attend. “The school helped me to become more familiar with the Church and help prepare me to come to BYU–Hawaii. I developed some really good relationships with people there and I’m glad I could go.”
Song remarked, “Going to Liahona changed everything for me. I enjoyed going to the school because I became very familiar and close to church leaders. Becoming familiar and developing close relationships with the church leaders who helped to run school helped me to prepare for a mission and develop spiritually.”
Hong remarked, “I hope the students recognize how blessed they are to have the Church university available for Koreans and to prepare them spiritually, academically and social to go into the world.”
Although the school is currently closed, Hong said he hopes to restart the school soon and build a nationwide boarding school to accommodate 100 students.