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Friend tried to talk UCLA student out of joining Libyan rebels

September 26, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
UCLA student Chris Jeon just got back from Libya, where he spent part of his summer vacation fighting alongside anti-Gadhafi forces. And he took home video of his incredible adventure.

Wearing a blue Los Angeles basketball jersey, Jeon looks more like your typical college student than a Libyan freedom fighter.

But the 21-year-old math major says he thought it would be "cool" to experience Libya's revolution firsthand. So he flew to Cairo, Egypt, hitchhiked across the border and caught a ride to the front lines.

"When I got there, they all saw that I wasn't Libyan and they assumed I was a journalist," said Jeon. "So when I asked to go to the front lines, they actually helped me and as far as hooking up with the rebels, I just stood outside their operating base, stuck my thumb out, and they said, 'Oh, ride with us, ride with us.'"

Knowing only a few words of Arabic, Jeon spent about three weeks with anti-Gadhafi soldiers.

They taught him how to handle an AK-47, and while he says he never killed anyone, Jeon did see action against pro-regime forces.

"When they first took me in, they sort of tested me. They took me out to the frontlines to see whether I got scared," said Jeon. "I didn't back away. And we had all of these machismo tests like wrestling matches, diving contests off 20-foot cliffs into shallow water, and I never said no to any of these and I think I gained their respect that way."

Jeon says he knew the risks of entering a war zone and acknowledges he was of no help to the rebels, but he gained appreciation for their plight.

"You know, this country has suffered so much. The people have suffered so much. Yet I was so inspired how they were able to wake up every day and fight for this cause they believe so much in for their freedom, and their children's freedom," said Jeon.

This isn't Jeon's first adventurous trip. He's also lived with indigenous natives in the Amazon rainforest and taught English at an orphanage in Cambodia.

By the way, he didn't tell his parents he was going to Libya. They say they're just happy to have him back.

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