THE TERM “THIRD-CULTURE KID” is affectionately used to describe those who were exposed to a wide variety of cultural influences, usually by way of relocation or travel, from a young age. Most third-culture kids I’ve known over the years have grown up to be grounded adults, largely thanks to their ability to feel at home anywhere in the world. Actor, musician, director, and multimedia artist Jihae is no exception. Born in South Korea, Jihae — whom you might recognize from her most recent role in HBO’s “Succession,” where she plays public relations consultant Berry Schneider — moved around a lot because of her father’s roles as a colonel, diplomat, and pastor.
Jihae has seen more of the world than most, so I was curious to learn about what travel means to her. “Not only a beautiful experience, travel opens your eyes and your mind by getting rid of the fear of the unknown,” she says. “Traveling helps you respect the things that you don’t understand instead of immediately putting them down or criticizing them. When you travel, you learn to accept and even appreciate the different ways that people think and live — if we had more of that, there’d be a lot more unity.”
From her soothing demeanor to her authentic curiosity, conversing with Jihae is akin to a meditative experience — and it doesn’t take long to unearth her personal links to spirituality. “My father became an ordained pastor, at the same time as being a colonel and a diplomat. So I got to see firsthand how my parents lived in service of their faith, and I grew up witnessing the types of miracles that you usually just hear about. My mom was a leader in the church, a healer, and a really profoundly spiritual woman.”
Jihae describes her childhood as “a string of challenges,” recounting a car accident that landed her in the hospital for six months at age 7. “I’d broken my femur, but when they took me to the nearest hospital, they didn’t put the cast on correctly.” Doctors feared that Jihae’s ability to walk would be permanently impaired, “but my parents maintained their faith and still believe that it was the power of prayer that helped me recover.” In hindsight, Jihae views this forced pause as a gift. “Traumas, stressful situations, and struggles are what make us stop and go inward. Even at a young age, I think it had a positive impact on me. Much of my childhood became about building resilience and perseverance through the discomfort.”
Resilience and perseverance have undoubtedly served Jihae well throughout her creative career. As someone who never shies away from an artistic challenge, Jihae is truly medium agnostic when it comes to her art. On top of her career in film, Jihae has collaborated with Lenny Kravitz, Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, Oscar-winning composer Teese Gohl, and Academy Award–winning playwright John Patrick Shanley, as a singer-songwriter. But, as a self-made female Asian artist, these opportunities were not handed to her. “I always had to think outside the box because I couldn’t find a team to back me. I didn’t have a budget, so if I wanted a way in, I had to find another door. I remember in 2008, Spinner.com [an online music magazine that closed after being acquired by AOL Music] shared an image of a giant floor-to-ceiling stack of CDs called the “crap stack,” and they literally said, ‘We get so many CDs there’s no way we can review them all, but we’re going to randomly select three from this pile to review based on interesting covers.’ I happened to be Elvis in drag for that cover and that’s how I ended up getting reviewed.”
It’s almost as though constraints fueled Jihae’s creativity. “I treated my albums like art projects, collaborated with fine artists and filmmakers, and my creative thinking expanded from there. I’m brave enough to throw myself into an uncharted creative challenge; in fact, I thrive on it. I’m also a hugely vulnerable person and extremely sensitive, but when I put my mind to something and I believe in it, then I’m unstoppable.”
Jihae’s quiet confidence and calm demeanor are captivating, but when I ask about her personal habits for achieving tranquility, she is quick to recount a time when that felt out of reach. “I remember my first time on set as an actor, which was for “Mars,” a TV series directed by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and produced by National Geographic. “I thought I was having a panic attack, so I was doing everything I could to try and ground myself. I was listening to solfeggio frequencies and talking to myself, and eventually found solace in conscious breathing.” Mindful practices like pranayama, a series of yogic techniques for regulating the breath, and meditation have since become pillars in Jihae’s personal rituals. “I focus on my breath to give my brain a break. Ashtanga yoga and Zen meditation keep me grounded. I realized during the pandemic that I can’t live without either.”
During the pandemic, hate crimes against Asians increased by 76% — a heartbreaking statistic that Jihae solemnly acknowledges. “Out of nowhere Asians became the scapegoats for the pandemic. People who look like our mothers and fathers were being beaten. How do you live with that? How do you even begin to process that? New York was the only place I felt at home and when these hate crimes started happening, I felt robbed of that.” And yet, despite circumstances that left even the most solid among us feeling ungrounded, Jihae once again found solace in simple rituals and mindful techniques. “I’m constantly learning and relearning the power of presence. When something unsettles me, I do my best not to be reactive and instead use my breath to stay mindful of what’s really happening. I think we often have the tendency to take a piece of information and spiral, instead of zooming out to see the whole picture.”
When Jihae describes her creative process, it’s clear her parents’ devotional beliefs live on through her craft. In “The Artist’s Way,” Julia Cameron writes, “Creativity requires faith and faith requires that we relinquish control.” This is a dance that Jihae embodies with grace as she likens flow state to spirituality: “I think the creative process is a beautiful place to be. I get a glimpse of the divine in those rare moments when a song gets channeled … almost as if I’ve fished it out of the ether. It’s a spiritual experience.”
Inspired to practice Jihae’s trusted technique for conscious breathing? Here’s how.
Place your hands on your abdomen and close your eyes.
Inhale through your nose, allowing your belly to expand beneath your hands.
Exhale out your mouth, releasing any tension you may be storing in the body.
Inhale for a count of 4.
Exhale for a count of 6.
Repeat as desired.
Jenn Tardif Writer
Jenn Tardif is the founder of the mindful collective 3rd Ritual, a certified aromatherapist, and a writer. A devout student of Taoism, yoga, and mindfulness, Tardif is a firm believer that wisdom lights the path to well-being, and has made a lifelong commitment to share the teachings with anyone curious enough to learn more.
Flora Hanitijo Photographer
Originally from Macau, Hanitijo grew up in Montreal, Canada. After studying at Cooper Union, she spent a decade living and working between Paris, London, and New York. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.