The American Dream - Korea to Idaho


The story of Samantha Breckon (Sammee) begins in South Korea where her mother’s birth certificate reads Young Soon Kim and her ancestors withstood the Korean War.  Today, her story continues as she fulfills her mother’s passion for the “American Dream,” working for the Bureau of Land Management in Idaho with a resolve to impart her appreciation for the world’s rich culture to her son.

As we conclude the celebration of Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) heritage month, Sammee explains her migration to America and despite her ancestral adversity, she “learned to speak English so well.”

BLM employee Sammee Breckon and her mom - selfie.
Sammee Breckon and her mom.

“I am half Korean, part Lithuanian and Romanian, and Ashkenazi Jewish,” says Sammee, who works as a human resources assistant for employee and labor relations at the BLM Idaho State Office. “I absolutely love the history of my heritage.”

“I recently started reading books about people affected by the Korean War and it’s given me a new respect for my mom and grandparents’ generations.” 

Her father’s family are Ashkenazi Jews. 

It’s difficult to imagine the primal need to change given names, but both her parents’ names were altered.  In the pursuit to become a prestigious lawyer, her grandfather changed his sur name from Goldstein, to Grayson, in hopes to build business without the scrutiny of having a Jewish last name.  While her mother was in the process of acclimating to life in America, she asked to legally change her name from Young Soon Kim to Kimberly Grayson after marrying.

She expresses her struggles growing up in a multi-cultural family.  “I argued with my parents because my father tried to raise us one way, while my mother tried raising us another and it was difficult to wrap my head around why each parent did things so oppositely.”

Family portrait of Jerry Brill - great grandfather's brother "Pappi" Josiah Brill - great grandfather Connie Grayson - grandmother.
Family portrait of Jerry Brill - Sammee's great grandfather's brother, "Pappi" Josiah Brill - Sammee's great grandfather, and Connie Grayson - Sammee's grandmother.



Her father – son of a lawyer - was raised by a nanny who cooked, cleaned, and cared for the home and children.  Conversely her mother - one of eight siblings prior to the Korean War - was singularly sent to live with her grandmother until her grandmother’s death left her with no place to live and she was forced to return home to a family who had originally “chosen to send her away.” 

As a young woman, Young Soon Kim only listened to American music and chose to work at a restaurant near a U.S. military installation.  Sammee feels this is likely because her mother hoped to marry an American and move to the United States.  Young Soon Kim ended up using a marriage service that arranged for her to marry an American soldier who would whisk her to America, but never met this person, was married on paper, and ultimately ended in a legal divorce.  Luckily Young Soon Kim soon met Sammee’s father; Sammee was born and eventually the family moved to the United States.

Sammee jollily says the “rest is history” but understands the adversity her mother faced to execute big dreams.  “She believed big and never allowed anything to come between the vision of her future.  This is why I admire her so much.”

Sammee’s family moved when she was 2-years-old to Alexandria, Va., where her sister Heather was born. With her father in the military, Sammee moved back and forth from the United States to Korean several times.  She eventually decided to relocate to Idaho to attend college.  Perhaps part of this choice is because Idaho’s topography is like South Korea, which is seventy percent rolling hills and mountains, with a countryside full of life with rivers and green trees, which brings her two worlds slightly closer.

Family portrait of Sammee Breckon with her mom and dad.
Family portrait: Sammee with mom and dad.


When Sammee moved to Idaho, she noticed many people upon first meeting her asked, “how do you speak English so well?”  She used this opportunity to explain her heritage and to educate others who had not had an opportunity to travel and explore beyond their hometowns and overseas. “I love being able to tell them my English is good because I am American, my mom followed the American dream and while I grew up overseas my ancestors accomplished so much and we bring this rich history and diversity to our present culture.  I can’t wait to share my story with my son and provide him the great educational opportunities I had.”

Photo of landscape in Korea. Courtesy of Laurel Stone, BLM.
Landscape in Korea. Photo courtesy of Laurel Stone, BLM.

Sammee attended Boise State University and majored in Communications.  Her son is 18-months-old.  She thinks it is important to understand the hardships and accomplishments of our ancestors and promote a deeper awareness and respect for our many cultures.

Photo of Korea.  Photo courtesy of Laurel Stone, BLM.
Korea. Photo courtesy of Laurel Stone, BLM.

Jennifer Hayes, Public Affairs Specialist