Surviving the greatest natural disaster of our time; escaping a dictatorship; traveling half-way across the world on your own and learning who you want to be — dramatic events that sound like the plot of a movie, but they’re not. They’re all real experiences SUNY Korea students recently shared with fellow SBU student Brandon Loo in a series of compelling posts on the “Humans of Stony Brook” (HoSB) Facebook page.
Inspired by the success of the “Humans of New York” Facebook page, three Stony Brook student photographers established HoSB in late 2012. The page highlights the diversity and vibrancy of Stony Brook’s 25,000+ students. In four years, HoSB has amassed more than 6,000 followers.
Recently, Brandon, a HoSB photographer and a junior majoring in Environmental Design, Planning and Policy, posted an extended series to HoSB about four students from SUNY Korea, who are here as part of their required year of study on the Stony Brook campus. The students — Regis Bafutwabo from Burundi; Lakmi Kulathunga and Nuwan Werellagama from Sri Lanka; and Eldor Zokirov from Uzbekistan — stayed in the south Bronx during winter break so they could see more of New York City. Brandon acted as their impromptu guide.
Each student has experienced an interesting and eye-opening journey to make it to Stony Brook. Experience the inspiring stories and photos Brandon has shared at facebook.com/humansofSBU.
Behind the Photographs
Brandon’s journey with SUNY Korea students began last January, when he was invited to photograph a group of about 10 students who were being interviewed by a journalist on behalf of Brandon’s media club, the Asian American E-Zine. Soon afterwards, Brandon was invited to a dinner where he met a few more students, one of whom was Sanju Rukshan, a student he then followed throughout the NYC subway as he performed with his guitar. Brandon posted Sanju’s adventures on a HoSB post and a blog/article on him with recorded videos on the E-Zine.
Sanju Rukshan performs in the subway.
Fast forward to Fall 2015, when a friend of Sanju’s recognized Brandon and asked him if he would show him around the city. During the winter break, Lakmi, Nuwan, Regis and Eldor rented an apartment in the south Bronx for a month. “I met them out in the city, since I live in Queens,” Brandon explained.
“I grew up in the city, so I knew the places to go. And I spent a few days with them, cooking in their apartment, or taking them to different places. Given the cold weather, exploration was limited, but I tried my best. Many pictures were either taken at Central Park or Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights. I hope they are able to stay during the summer because there is so much to do, including boating in Central Park, exploring the High Line, the Staten Island Ferry, etc. I still have more to show them, and to me it’s worth it because not many international students get the chance to be so close to NYC.”
Brandon’s involvement with the SUNY Korea students has had a lasting impact. “I have to thank the students for being so friendly and allowing me to spend time with them. The experiences I’ve had with them the last few months are unforgettable and have made my college experience even better. This goes for all the SUNY Korea kids I have met thus far. And in the future, I hope to get more involved and eventually be able to visit SUNY Korea and experience being the visitor rather than the tour guide.”
In addition to his involvement with HoSB and the Asian American E-Zine, Brandon is a DJ at WUSB Radio and works part-time as a student manager at the Jasmine restaurant. Brandon is head DJ for Chinablue, which has a show on WUSB every Sunday from 7 pm to 8 pm. The show features a mix of popular Chinese music, combined with English and Chinese dialogue. “Our goal is to expose Long islanders to popular Chinese music and culture, while teaching a few words or phrases in each show. We also relay information about campus events in Chinese to appeal to the Asian population on campus.”
Brandon owes his career as a Stony Brook photographer in part to a Stony Brook alum, his brother, Brian, who did event photography for clubs when he was a student. “I followed in his footsteps and took it to another level,” he said. “Although photography and DJ-ing are hobbies, I will continue to focus more on photography after graduation, but on a more personal or volunteer level. In terms of my academic future, depending whether I get a job, I will likely attend graduate school to obtain a Masters in Urban Design, but that idea is still tentative.”
— Shelley Catalano