There’s the visiting golfer who thinks the town of St Andrews is more diverse than London. And there are the men in beige. And the girls on the street who would rather be in Paris. And the couple that likes to people-watch on Sundays over pizza.
Meet the Humans of St Andrews, as showcased on the new blog of the same name. Meet also Harmeet, Boudicca, Lindsay, Renzo, Monika, Aarushi, Nicholas, and Salman. These eight second-year students are the brains behind Humans of St Andrews (HOSA), the bubble’s latest blog.
As group members in their enterprise and creativity module, they were tasked with coming up with a marketable entrepreneurial project. Struggling to come up with an idea, Harmeet procrastinated – as any student does. Scrolling through the popular photo blog Humans of New York, though, her procrastination turned into inspiration. She thought the photo-blog template was well suited to St Andrews and, better yet, a good project idea.
Soon enough, HOSA was born. It is, however, no copycat of HONY. Committed to a charitable mission, HOSA was formed as a social enterprise and functions as a fundraiser for the Equality Network. Based in Edinburgh, this charity works to promote LGBT and human rights throughout Scotland.
Support for the Equality Network is really at the core of HOSA. The group members believe that this charity is one that everyone can relate to, especially given the diversity of the University of St Andrews’ student body.
While our town is often stereotyped as a hamlet full of Barbours and wellies, HOSA’s creators are keen to shatter this assumption. In order to live up to its name, HOSA features as many different types of St Andrews humans as possible.
In addition to students at the university, townspeople, Madras coeds, local business owners, and tourists have all been featured on the website. The group wants to differentiate HOSA from the other student photography outlets by showcasing people in their element, as they are, instead of all dolled up in black tie or through society events.
Even though there is no shortage of diversity or interesting subjects in town, the HOSA team admits that it can be hard to get people to talk about themselves in the style made famous by HONY photographer, Brandon Stanton.
Working in pairs or small groups, the HOSA team takes to the streets to find content for their blog. While some people are surprisingly open and chatty, many are hesitant or in a hurry or simply uninterested. Additionally, for those unaware of HONY – or even unfamiliar with the concept of a photo blog – it can be a challenge to convince them to participate.
I went along with Lindsay and Renzo for an afternoon shoot, wandering around town looking for interesting subjects. They approached each subject differently, posing questions based on his or her clothing or activity or vibe. Simple questions like ‘Where are you off to?’ prompted a wide range of answers, from the straightforward (‘We’re off to a Dont Walk committee meeting’) to the more puzzling (‘I’m headed for the medical school to be a pretend patient’).
Everyone they asked was willing to be photographed and to answer a question or two, although some took more prodding than others. When Lindsay led us into Dervish – in broad daylight – we met one of the owners and her sister-in-law. After each of them tried to avoid being the one photographed, they proceeded to tell us about the time a student got locked in the bathroom overnight. They also stressed the importance of supporting local businesses in town. (Both points were equally important.)
Not every subject was as chatty or talented a conversationalist as the Dervish duo, but each had something personal and interesting to contribute. And every subject represented a different facet of the St Andrews community.
While meandering around town, Lindsay told Renzo and me about a trip she had taken to Paris. Stuck in a restaurant with a complicated French menu, she ordered the only dish she recognized: pigeon. Her French waiter was impressed and found her choice very unexpected for an American tourist like herself. The two of them began to talk, and the waiter told Lindsay that she was not like the other Americans who came through town. No, she was more – how do you say? – human.
Whether it takes a student wandering around town with a camera and a blog to fill or a foreign menu with just one identifiable option, the process of humanising those around us is often as simple as asking (or answering) just one question. ‘Where are you off to?’ or ‘What would you like to order?’, then, become ways to bridge the gap between ourselves and the strangers around us. Thanks to HOSA, the gap just got smaller.
Check out Humans of St Andrews at their website (humansofstandrews.com) or on Facebook (Facebook.com/humansofstandrews).