The Tale of the Arab Spring Break

In 2011, Chris Jeon was a 21-year old UCLA student from an affluent Orange County neighborhood. A brilliant student and dedicated mathematics major, Chris had his eyes set on a lucrative summer internship at the largest asset management firm in the world – a position that would catapult him into the career in finance that he had always dreamed of. But by the end of the summer, Chris would find himself not sitting in a cubicle, but fighting alongside Libyan rebels in their revolution against Muammar Gaddafi.

This is the story of one of the most epic and unlikely summer breaks ever.

Chris had always been straight-laced and a hard worker. His father was an orthodontist who rarely did anything physical or exciting out of fear of hurting his professional aspirations. Chris was a model student who had the goal of entering into the financial industry – and he was well on his way. He was making nearly $10,000 per month as an intern at Blackrock in San Francisco. Everything seemed to have come together for him.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until he had arrived that he discovered he didn’t want to be there anymore. A few months earlier, he had convinced his friend to travel to Seattle and attempt to live off of one dollar for a week. They starved, froze, and begged for an entire week. Yet somehow, the ‘one-dollar trip’ was one of the most meaningful experiences that Chris had ever had. Little did he know that it would be like a field trip compared to what he was about to experience.

Part of Chris’ job as an analyst was to research trends and events that may have an effect on world markets. It was this research that led him to the Arab Spring, a series of popular uprisings that spread across the Arab world beginning in late 2010, and whose effects are still falling like dominoes today (think Egyptian Revolution, part deux). Specifically, Chris became fascinated with the Libyan revolution, in which rebels had taken up arms against Muammar Gadaffi and his decades-old dictatorship. Eventually, he decided to act.

That August, Chris bought a ticket to Egypt and told his parents that he was going sightseeing. He landed in Cairo and hitchhiked west until he made it to the Libyan border. When he arrived, a group of rebels were guarding the checkpoint; they barely took a glance at his passport before returning to their Playstation. Determined to get to the front lines, Chris got in a cab headed for the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

A happy-go-lucky kid, Chris had an innocent upbringing that was reflected in his success. Like many Korean-American families, he had been taught to be cautious so that he would have every opportunity to lead a comfortable life. He hadn’t had a drink until he got to college and began smoking shortly before his trip to Libya. Why? Because he knew the rebels did it, and he wanted to practice. It is almost inconceivable – and inspiringly so – that such a naive kid would knowingly travel directly into harm’s way in search of a meaningful pursuit.

Ten miles outside of Benghazi, Chris would get his first taste of the danger which was rampant inside the broken country. While stopped at another checkpoint, a rebel soldier told him to get out of the cab. What followed was what I can only imagine a very confusing interrogation; the rebels wanted to know who he was, where he was from, and why he was there. Chris, who spoke no Arabic, had no luck explaining himself. The rebels even accused him of being a North Korean spy sent by Gadaffi.

Luckily, Chris had made contact with a Libyan through a room-sharing site prior to leaving the US. He quickly dug the number out and gave it to the rebels, who dialed the number. After a long, heated conversation, the rebel soldier hung up, turned to Chris, and said “Ok…your friend coming.”
Soon after, a black BMW blasting Justin Bieber pulled up, and out of the drivers seat came Ayman Amzain.

Ayman was a medical student who adored the California lifestyle. He fed off Chris’ presence, but after four days of being with Ayman, Chris couldn’t hold back anymore. He insisted that he be taken to the front lines. Ayman reluctantly agreed. Before leaving Chris, Ayman gave him a letter written in Arabic: “Hello. My name is Chris. I am from the United States. Please help me to go to the front lines. Thank you, and thanks to God.”

This was just the beginning. Read the full story about this dude here, and prepare to have your mind blown.


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