Arab Spring Break
Credit: Courtesy Chris Jeon
Ladera Ranch bills itself as "one of Orange County's premier master-planned communities." The development sprouted out of the brush-covered hills of Southern California in 1999 and offered a slice of sunny perfection to anyone who could afford it. The newly paved streets are lined with saplings, American flags hang from porches, and buyers can choose from a handful of elegant home models. The community of approximately 8,000 households has its own schools, freeways, and shopping centers. Soon after Chris Jeon's family moved there, the local branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers voted it Project of the Year.

The Jeons came to the U.S. from Korea in the 1980s. Chris' father, Peter, studied at UCLA, racking up an impressive list of degrees: a bachelor's, a master's in mechanical engineering, and a medical degree in dental science. His wife, Jane, became a pharmacist, while Dr. Jeon ran his own orthodontics practice in Orange County. Chris was their eldest, a first-generation American, and his parents had high hopes for him.

He didn't disappoint: National Honor Society, a 4.3 GPA, vice president of the Future Business Leaders of America. When other kids were shotgunning beers in the parking lot behind the cineplex, Jeon was home practicing piano and guitar. "My parents sacrificed a lot so their kids could have opportunities," Jeon says. He had no intention of wasting them. "I wanted to be the perfect kid for him," he says, referring to his father.

He wasn't exactly perfect. In junior high, he assembled a large-enough collection of death metal – Slayer, In Flames, Cryptopsy – to alarm his Catholic parents, who threw it all out one day when he was at school. "I've never been so angry," Jeon remembers. In one of his first acts of rebellion, he slept in his car in the family driveway for a week.

When Jeon arrived at UCLA in 2008, he had the r é sum é; of a classic overachiever. He joined a frat, drinking his first beer in April of his freshman year. He got properly hammered a few times after that but never lost focus on academics or his dream of eventually landing on Wall Street. "I wanted money, status, stock options, all of it," he says. "To me, that was the pinnacle of achievement."

But by junior year, he started to feel anxious, stifled – and not just by academics. At the fraternity, there was talk of going to Canc ún for spring break. It would be awesome: They'd chase girls and get wasted just as they had the year before.

"Why don't we do something different?" Jeon suggested.

Only one of his brothers took him seriously – Ross McCray. McCray had also grown up in Ladera Ranch, in a house with the same floor plan as Jeon's. They were both math majors whose fathers were doctors. Somehow, they hadn't met until UCLA.

Together they decided to fly to Seattle for a week and survive on only a dollar. It was something that kids like them would never consider doing. "We were very, very on-track students," McCray says. "This was like a release valve."

McCray dubbed it the "one-dollar trip," and within days, they were in downtown Seattle with nothing more than a single dollar, their driver's licenses, and a book containing 400 investment-banking interview questions. (Interviews were looming, and they needed to brush up.) They hadn't counted on it being 40 degrees and were soon freezing and hungry. They started to beg.

For the next week, they slept in parking garages and homeless shelters, panhandling for food and struggling to stay warm. For Jeon, it was a revelation. "Between Ladera Ranch and UCLA, I'd always lived in a bubble," he says. "It wasn't the real world."

A week later, they started interviewing for summer internships with investment banks. It was a hard transition. One interviewer asked Jeon to estimate the number of golf balls that would fit inside a 747. "Who the fuck cares?" Jeon thought. But his family had worked hard to get him to this point. He ran some numbers in his head and said that roughly 15.7 million golf balls would fit in a 747, assuming you didn't fill the fuel tanks. A few days later, he was offered a job at BlackRock, one of the world's largest asset management firms.