Arab Spring Break
Credit: Courtesy Chris Jeon
Chris Jeon was scheduled for a full load of classes the fall semester of his senior year – linear algebra, differential equations, game theory – but by November, he'd not managed to make it to many. He'd lost interest in math and almost everything else he used to care about. He sat in his off-campus apartment and smoked with the shades drawn. An AK-47 bullet dangled from his neck on a leather necklace – a gift from his brigade. He slept during the day and stayed up late so he could talk to his Libyan friends on Skype.

"I gave him shit because he stopped hitting me up and going out," said McCray, Jeon's friend from the one-dollar trip to Seattle. "He just disappeared."

Jeon's parents were worried too. Peter Jeon, who'd never done anything more adventurous than golf, for fear of hurting his arm and impacting his orthodontics practice, couldn't understand why their son had sought out a war zone. "All my friends asked me where Chris had come from," Dr. Jeon says. "I told them I don't know."

In the U.S., many had reacted with horror to his story. Wired.com charged him with "turning someone else's struggle for freedom into your barstool anecdote" and the L.A. Weekly labeled his trip a "mere summer-vacation thrill." After all, if it was combat experience he was after, he could have walked into a local recruitment office. But Jeon insists that he was simply looking for a deeper, more direct understanding of the world, from homelessness to war. Besides, he'd forged a deep bond with his rebel friends. "These people treated me like I was part of their family," he said. "They did so much for me, I have to give back." In January, he decided to go back to Libya during his spring break. I decided to go with him.