(And why I’d still recommend the next one to everyone)

For those of you who hadn’t seen the news over the summer, the world scout jamboree was held in South Korea, with around 50,000 attendees from all over the world. This is intended to be the scouting event of a lifetime. The idea is to make international connections, learn about other cultures and meet lifelong friends. That was, until, it was all evacuated.

I was one of the attendees from the UK. To answer the question ‘What Actually Happened’ in under 10 words: I had the time of my life in South Korea.

This was despite all of the conditions that me and my friends will continue to joke about for years (including the sanitation, evacuation and the ‘cooling’ buses that were dispatched). As well as our jamboree experience turning into an international news story. Not exactly the sociable and well planned event we had thought were going to get. The plan was:

  • Fly to Incheon Airport, Seoul
  • Spend three and a half Days in Seoul
  • Travel to the jamboree site in SaeManGeum
  • Stay at site for 12 days
  • A couple more days in Seoul
  • Fly home

From leaving my home to returning, the trip was three weeks. Exactly the time it was meant to be. Just not in the places we thought.

The first three days in Seoul were as planned – until the last night. We were called onto the roof garden of the hotel to meet and told the the entire jamboree site had flooded. UK contingent were holding us back until the site was safer – which could be 24-48 hours.

The next (extra) day in Seoul was spent exploring again, and visiting many of the local cafes. This was after we had completed a crazy idea by one of our friends called ‘train station roulette’. It pretty much meant we just flipped a coin as to which direction to go on a train, whether to get off or not and which lines to take. It was as fun as it sounded. Thankfully, we were able to travel to site the next day, as the floods had cleared.

Getting to Jamboree Site

The site of the jamboree itself was reclaimed land in SaeManGeum, on the west coast of South Korea, a couple of hours drive from Seoul. We had a great time getting down on the bus, a mixture of excitement, nerves and anticipation for what was to come. All of that was topped off by loud music we were screaming at the top of our lungs for the majority of the journey.

Upon arrival at site, we pitched tents in the heat on our subcamp. Some people also helped to dig small waterways around the subcamp in case of any more heavy rain. Once we had set up, we began the walk across site to the where the Opening Ceremony would be held.

This was one of the trenches dug in attempt to keep the site from flooding again

The Opening Ceremony was an amazing experience, with different speakers – the South Korean president in attendance, a video from the UN and Bear Grylls. There was also a mix of traditional Korean dances and music with other more popular songs, such as songs from the Lion King and Bohemian Rhapsody. Unfortunately the site for this wasn’t large enough for all of the scouts and attendees who were there. Many, including some from the UK, missed out. They were able to hear from outside, but stuck without a view.

Fireworks at the Opening Ceremony, 2nd August 2023

On Site

I have to admit that despite all of the issues on site, this part of the trip was one of my favourites. I loved being able to walk out of my tent in a morning. and chat to people from four different continents before I’d even had breakfast. Unfortunately we only had one day of activities before we were told on our third day that all activities were cancelled that due to the heat.

However, that day was actually the best days. We took a group trip down to the pavilions for each country. I spent about two hours in the Italian pavilion, singing karaoke with a mix of people from all over the world, quickly making friends with a Brazilian girl who I still talk to.

In the afternoon, I went out in the ‘shade tunnels’ – a place that quickly became known for trading scout badges and chatting in small circles as it was the only shade on site. I was able to sit and play a dice game with a group of people from Chile, and go for a wander with some friends. In the evening there was a party kind of event at the side of our subcamp, with everyone accumulating to dance and sing under the stars. This ended with everyone going into the GS25 tent (like a convenience store in a tent) to get ice cups.

I walked back from the music with four friends – only to be told that UK were evacuating site. Although some units had been struggling with hospitalisations, bad sanitation and much more, it came as a huge shock to us, as we’d been fine so far as a unit – if a little dubious of the cleanliness of the toilets.

Leaving Site

That night was a whole mix of emotions from the unit. Looking back on it, I think this night was where the whole group of us saw each other at our most vulnerable – and became so much closer because of it. We were told we’d be leaving in the next 24-48 hours. UK Contingent was the first to pull out. If you want to know more about why we left site, please check out the UK contingent’s press release with Matt Hyde. (featured in this article ITV News). It was not solely due to the heat as a lot of UK media made out.

Not knowing if this would be our last night, me and one of the other girls took off to go and chat to as many people as we could before we left. This meant getting a lot more contact details of people from all over the world that I still speak to now. I spent some time stargazing before heading back into the tents and getting some sleep.

The next morning we received news that our group would be one of the later groups to leave, having this day as a last day on site. It was certainly an emotional day, with most people on site having heard the news and other contingents starting to talk of pulling out.

Sunrise over the mountains in SaeManGeum

The day we left site was probably one of the hardest days. There was frustration, tears and a general sense of upset that we’d been preparing nearly two years for this event – which had been reduced from twelve days to four. However, the hotel we were evacuated to was a lot better than we were expecting. It had a stunning view in a much posher hotel than we expected with four or five to a room – really helping to tighten our friendships.

More Time in Seoul

The rest of our time was all spent in Seoul, the capital city. The South Korean people were lovely, and very generous with giving us free water bottles. This time in Seoul lead to making hundreds more great memories – going out for street-food with girls who are now some of my best friends, going round in circles in a traditional Korean market, sharing a poncho while running in the rain and getting on random trains to see where we’d end up. I’ll be writing many more articles on my time in Seoul, and I’ll link them below when they’re done.

My Jamboree Experience

Overall, what I can say is that those three weeks were some of the best weeks of my life so far. I became a different person – more adaptable to change, more resilient and more confident. A lot of that is down to the friends I made, and intend to meet up with. The ones closer are much easier to see but I have a lot of travelling planned to go and see the friends I’ve made from different countries.

The group leaders and the UK Contingent were amazing in getting us out when we needed to be off-site for our own safety. Although a lot of media reports liked to paint the idea of a ‘snowflake’ generation, I haven’t seen a group of people who were more adaptable, positive and able to make the most of an opportunity. Of course, every single person who went will have a different perspective and different memories, but from my personal experience, I loved the jamboree.

When I first signed up, I was promised an adventure of a lifetime and lifelong friends. I can honestly say that the jamboree experience delivered on both accounts. It certainly wasn’t the jamboree we expected, but it was a life-shaping experience all the same. If I had the opportunity to do it all again, I’d be there in a heartbeat.