Personal Essay: Demi Chu ’20

Writing Prompt: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

“...everyone believes the world’s greatest lie.” A boy asked, “What’s the world’s greatest lie?” “It’s that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie” –The Alchemist.

I was in Mr. Franklin’s World Literature class as he brought Paulo Coelho’s words to life. For me, there was no one point in which my life became controlled by fate. Instead I believed my life was shaped by my ethnicity and the world I grew up in. Mr. Franklin prompted me to take control of my life rather than let fate, and the world’s greatest lie, control who I am.

I had believed fate was the only thing that could explain the near impossibility of my parents falling in love. My dad from Taiwan and my mother from Korea, they traveled separately to Australia to learn English. Neither’s English was very good, but they met and found common ground speaking Japanese. A few years later, my mom was wondering what to call her next baby and “Demi” stood out, mainly because Demi has no “l,” “n,” or “f,” so it was easy for both my parents to pronounce.

Demi fits me in so many other ways too. Demi represents how my Korean and Taiwanese sides meet in the middle of the American culture in which I study. As I learned how others saw me, it seemed impossible to find a definite answer for who I am. Half did not mean one foot in two cultures; it meant each foot stepping quickly over the hot coals of each culture; I never fit in anywhere.

In Korea, I am often made aware that I am not Korean “enough.” While shopping, store clerks seem to intuitively understand I am not entirely Korean—speaking English to me or turning to my mom to answer questions I had asked. I speak fluent Korean and wondered what “gave me away” as a foreigner; looking in the mirror, I suspected my undyed black hair in a sea of trendy brown hair was the culprit. Surprisingly, once I dyed my hair, I was more accepted as Korean.

Yet, the minute I started to find my bearings in the Korean half of my life, my grasp of the other eluded me. When I returned to Taiwan where jet black hair is fashionable, people negatively viewed my lightly colored hair—leading to the surreal feeling of being treated as an outsider in my hometown. Even my fluent Mandarin was not enough to shake the assumptions of some. Demi, cutting across two cultures, left me with two seemingly incompatible halves.

Eventually, doodling helped me understand how artificial boundaries are. I saw how my creativity often went beyond borders, something instinctive inside me that resisted limitations. During my summer internship with the Bach Institute, a Taipei-based music conservatory, my ability to cross cultures through art found expression in the commemorative T-shirt I designed for performers of the Chelsea Music Festival to mark their trip to Taipei. Uniting the imagery of Taipei and New York in my design allowed me to explore how the cultural forces of Taiwan, Korea, and my American education have shaped my creative expression.​

Growing up between two borders in a world in which everyone else tried to define who I am, Demi has come to represent the whole of me; two sides that may not always be in harmony, but the tension inherent in my identity has empowered me to assert my independence. Mr. Franklin’s speech reminded me that half of life is where you come from and the other half is finding who you want to become. When Mr. Franklin finished reading, I realized that I’m the writer of my story—someone who does not believe the world’s greatest lie.