Edge, Q & A + Profiles

Discovering the humans of Miami

UM’s presence on Facebook has been growing, especially with pages like UMiami Secrets gaining popularity around school. Recently, students’ Facebook feeds have been taken over by a new kind of webpage: “Humans of UM,” modeled after the popular page “Humans of New York,” which was created by Brandon Stanton in 2010.

If you follow “Humans of UM,” you may have noticed that there are two different pages by the same name. Juniors Sam Koay and Collin Li have each created Facebook accounts within the last two months in hopes of sharing the stories of the people we meet around campus. Koay’s page joined Facebook on Jan. 8 and Li’s on Feb. 3 (although Li formerly had content on a blog). Since then, they have received 1,194 likes and 2,241 likes, respectively.

Each started the blog with a distinct goal in mind and, since starting, each has created an identifiable style. The Miami Hurricane sat down with both Koay and Li to talk about their individual reasons for starting and the experiences they’ve each had  since the blogs took off.


Junior Sam Li Shen Koay poses for a portrait on the Green on Sunday afternoon. Monica Herndon // Photo Editor

Junior Sam Koay created his Humans of UM webpage on Jan. 8 to share stories about those on campus with the community.

Junior Sam Koay was so inspired by the webpage “Humans of New York” and its idea of sharing stories that hold the power to impact people that he decided to created a similar one. Koay, who lived in Brunei before college, created a page called “Humans of Brunei” to emulate that idea.

After moving to Miami and attending UM, he decided to create a page about the university’s community, leading to the startup of his “Humans of UM” page earlier this year. The page follows a similar format to “Humans of New York,”  including pictures of students, faculty and visitors around campus with a quote from the person pictured.

Koay initially reached out to Collin Li, the creator of the other page, so they could work together, but Li declined.

Li told Koay he was not interested in a collaboration.

The Miami Hurricane sat down with Koay to discuss his idea for the project, how he runs it and his plans for the future.

The Miami Hurricane: What gave you the idea to start “Humans of UM?”

Sam Koay: After hearing more about “Humans of New York,” I realized this is a phenomenal project. It has a way to impact lives that is very real because you hear it from real people.

TMH: How do you choose a person and approach them for an interview?

SK: I look around me. If I see someone who’s engaging, who’s wearing something interesting, holding something interesting, or has an interesting aura to them, I’ll approach them.

TMH: How do you get a stranger to open up about their life? What kind of questions do you ask?

SK: I take an interest in their lives. I want to find out more about them in a sincere manner. People are always willing to tell their story if they have a very good listener who’s willing to listen to detail.

TMH: Why is it important for you to tell these people’s stories?

SK: They all have a thousand problems, a thousand things to be thankful for and a thousand things they can tell you. This project shows that people want to connect with each other. We all can understand each other’s stories. Whether it’s a challenge, we understand it in our own way. This is what the project is about. Everyone has a story to tell.

TMH: What do you enjoy the most from this project?

SK: I think if you live by yourself, you can only live through your life, your experiences, what you’re taught in books. Through the eyes of other people, writing and telling stories, you live a more fulfilled life because you get to hear, learn and be inspired by other things that you would otherwise not be exposed to. With that you can grow as a person.

TMH: Your name isn’t mentioned anywhere on the page as the interviewer or photographer. Why is it important to you that it stays that way?

SK: I don’t think this project should be about the person because of the nature of it. My pride out of this project is being able to get a real story and extract that from somebody, and then putting it somewhere where people can learn and people can be moved.

TMH: What have you learned so far and what are your future goals for the project?

SK: I learned to be a good listener, how to be a journalist and how to connect with people. I’m trying to integrate people into it; I think it’s a great way to get different perspectives. Once I’m gone, people will take over.


To view Koay’s page, visit Facebook.com/humansofum.



Collin Li poses for a portrat outside the SAC on Thursday afternoon. Monica Herndon // Photo Editor

Collin Li poses for a portrat outside the SAC on Thursday afternoon. Monica Herndon // Photo Editor

Collin Li, a junior at UM, created his “Humans of UM”, Facebook page to satisfy the curiosity everyone has to learn about the people around us.

He thought “Humans of New York” was a great idea to bring to UM to show the online community all the different personalities on campus.

“I’m still developing my personal goal for this project but I do want to show that everyone is a human and we all have struggles and stories,” Li said.

During his free time before and after class, Li photographs and interviews students, faculty, and bystanders about their goals in life or any advice they may give.

Facebook newsfeeds of the people who have liked the page are filled with pictures of strangers and blurbs of text, as Li posts daily of the people he finds.

Sam Koay, the founder of the other Facebook page, reached out to Li because he was interested in working together, since their pages are similar.

Li declined.

“I didn’t see it working because the two of us were catering to different audiences,” Li said.

He claims that Koay’s page aims to give people “fame” and does not focus on exhibiting diversity.

The Miami Hurricane sat down with Li to find out his perspective of the photographic project.

The Miami Hurricane: Why did you decide to work on “Humans of UM?”

Collin Li: There are interesting people everywhere,  and it’s also a challenge for us photographers. I saw the “Humans of New York” page and thought it would be interesting to bring it to UM. As human beings, it benefits our curiosity. We all have this antenna, where we are drawn to certain people. I wanted my page to satisfy that.

TMH: Do you have a post limit? Are they taken and then saved or posted as you go?

CL: I try to do one a day but it ends up being four … They’re all current.

TMH: What do you look for mostly when choosing someone to interview and photograph?

CL: People who are walking or sitting alone but mostly sitting because I can approach them and ask them my questions. Also any outfit that catches my eye.

TMH: Have you been rejected before?

CL: I usually get rejected by people in uniforms and professors who don’t want their beliefs or affiliations connected to them online.

TMH: What questions do you ask?

CL: I try to get the personal questions or something that I think can be inspiring such as “what’s something people don’t know about you” or “what are your goals in life?”

TMH: Do you make them pose for the picture?

CL: My favorites are the serious or candid ones but I’ve had some posed ones before.

TMH: What are the personal benefits?

CL: I’m actually really shy and I fear rejection. This let me get out of my comfort zone and go up to strangers … I also have found a way to relate to all the stories.

To view Li’s page, visit Facebook.com/humansofUMiami.

March 2, 2014

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Emily Dabau

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.