By Naomi Bailey (ADC International)
Well, where to start!
I can give you an insight into the trip from the perspective of Unit 62 (my unit), each UK unit will have had different experiences although they will all be similar.
So this experience started for me 2 years ago with the Adult selection weekend back in September 2021, where we were all put through our paces by the group of assessing adults and young people. Those leaders selected then had to put on / run a sub camp during the young peoples selection weekend in October before spending an agonizing 6 hours selecting who would be offered a place to attend the Jamboree (400 down to 144 is no easy task), I think this was possibly one of the hardest elements of the Jamboree experience.
Unit 62 was a joint unit with South West England Guides, a bitterly cold November saw us helping to run and select the 9 members of Guiding that would make up our unit.
December 2021 and we finally had our complete unit, let the fun begin with training weekends to cover a wide range of topics – team bonding / creating a unit identity / how to handwash clothes / cooking with limited kit / how can we make more areas of shade / first aid / hiking & navigation / cultural do’s & don’ts / what unit kit they wanted etc. the list goes on.
The next year seemed to fly by and where leaders had been able to answer queries we didn’t have the answers for with “that’s a next year problem” we suddenly found ourselves at the beginning of 2023, so now they were this years problems!
Our young people had bonded as a unit and patrols, it was great to see them all together as 1 unit (we defied anyone to tell which were the guides & which the scouts), we had an excited well trained / prepared group ready to embark on the Jamboree trip. UK kit started to arrive, and the excitement / reality started to increase, and then it was departure day! Meeting up at a central location gave us chance to run some final checks on paperwork / kit / passports etc. and despite a late coach pick up (which did nothing good for my sanity) we were checked in at Heathrow and on our way leaving at 6.30am.
First stop Warsaw, despite having a couple of hours layover time, we just about got through security checks and to the gate before being called for boarding.
Then it was the long haul to Incheon, S. Korea arriving at 6.20am the following day (local time), we found time to sing happy birthday to one of our unit in the airport before starting to sort out sim cards and the metro.
We had our Tmoney cards in hand and we were off, 40 members with rucksacks and 43 kit bags in tow, we navigated the metro with a 1 ½ hour journey to arrive in the Meyongdong area of Seoul and had our first taste of the outside temperature, Wow it was hot & sticky! Fortunately, a short walk saw us locating our hotel for the night and some very welcome air con & cold water.
Then it was back out into the streets to explore and do some last bits of shopping in preparation for the Jamboree site. As we headed out for our evening meal we got the news that our departure to the Jamboree site was being delayed by a day or 2.
Day 1 saw us waking up to our first morning in Seoul, only to discover that we would need to re-trace our steps back to the airport for that nights accommodation. We decided to spend the day in the local area enjoying a paddle in the cool water of the Cheonggyecheon stream before splitting into patrols and allowing them to explore a bit on their own. Who knew what fun leaders would get from Selfie check ins! (where’s your sun hat?!) that evening it was time to head to our accommodation for the night, even at 10.30pm it was still quite hot and very humid!
We had it confirmed at around 11pm that our unit would be departing for site the next day, we managed to acquire some food for breakfast & lunch the next day at a couple of local convenience shops, I don’t think the staff knew what had hit them when so many UK units descended on their small shops looking for food & drink for the next days meals.
Day 2 we left Seoul at around 11am for the 3-4 hour coach journey to the campsite, we had a few interesting google translate conversations with our driver about where he was going to drop us off, but eventually with the aid of a digitally drawn line on a map we got to our sub camp, now just to find our pitch!!
We used some insider advice from IST and made sure all our tents would benefit from the sea breeze (if it should appear), by the time we had positioned the crates to set out where the tents would go and had managed to pitch 5 tents, we had to throw all the kit bags in these tents and hurriedly get to the muster point ready to head off to the Opening ceremony. I think around 2 hours later we made it to the security check to enter the arena, we found somewhere to sit and settled in for the show. Lots of speeches and the parading of the flags later it was time for the K Pop show (but it was after 10pm and we still had 35 tents to pitch before we could go to sleep, let alone grab some food for the night) so regrettably we had to make a move and head back to camp. We managed to see the drone show from a reverse angle just as we finished with all our tents. It was still so ridiculously hot and we had well & truly been eaten by all the bugs that we gave up on the idea of cooking and headed for bed.
Day 3, I got to see the sunrise over the site as my patrol was up before 5am to go and collect the food boxes, then it was back to camp and get cooking the interesting breakfast meal we had (chicken breast tomato stew). So our first full day on camp had us finding out where everything was and working on setting up our camp properly with a kitchen area, camp gateway, additional shade and decorations, this was slow work due to the soaring temperatures & humidity. The young people managed to do a bit of wandering around and talking to other units, doing some swaps and generally meeting others.
We started to get the national emergency notifications pinging up on our phones frequently – most of which were to inform us of the Heat wave, with advice to stay indoors out of the sun, drink plenty of water etc. Back on the site we had an impromptu air show as we presume the Korean airforce was using the area for practicing their display flying, buzzing the campsite and setting off plumes of coloured smoke and a whole host of other flying acrobatics.
We felt like we were starting to get into our stride and our site was getting there with additional areas of shade and our all-important paddling pools, we had our schedule of activities for the remainder of the camp and we had an off site day of activities to look forward to the next day.
Day 4 I think the day started hotter than the day before, our phones were already buzzing with Heat wave warnings and we hadn’t even eaten breakfast! We trudged off with our day bags to the Car park to await our coach to the off site activities, I think by the time we got there we had already polished off 1 bottle of water each! But we were lucky, our activities were not cancelled due to the heat so we were off to the beach and forest area to have a go at some Eco activities and a high rope tree walk. We found out from others back on site that the activities there had been cancelled due to the heat. We arrived back on camp just in time to collect our food boxes for the evening meal. Then there was the notification to Unit leaders that they needed to attend a meeting, so off I set on the hour walk to get to the main building for the meeting as the sun was setting. And that’s when we got hit with the bomb shell that despite everyone’s best efforts in the IST teams and the constant pushing of the organising body the UK Contingent had made the difficult decision to remove us from the Jamboree site back to Seoul. This was crushing news for us all but we fully understood their decision and respected their bravery in doing so.
So there I was, 9pm at night, walking back to our unit in the evening heat (which was still hot & sweaty) thinking … how on earth am I going to break this news to everyone, there going to be devastated! They were just starting to get into a rhythm and starting to meet people.
Well that has to be one of the worst things I have had to do on a camp, I have to say a huge thank you and well done to my unit who despite being upset at the news of our imminent departure rallied round and comforted each other and came to terms with the sudden about turn to our plans.
Day 5 We woke up to a sweltering hot early morning and an email to confirm we were leaving the site at 11am! Through a hive of activity (goodness knows how we did it in the humidity & heat) we got all the kit bags packed and the kitchen kit tidied up, we left any extra kit in a pile for other units to benefit from and put a message on the sub camp chat so leaders would know. We didn’t get time to drop our tents in the end as we had to get moving for the 1 hour hike with all our kit bags to the car park we were being collected from. A lot of people came to say farewell and wish us well (which was quite emotional as thoughts of abandoning these people ran through my head). Our team worked together to share the load of all the heavy kit bags on the sandy soil, the sun was beating down with no signs of relief as we trudged our way across the site only to finally arrive at the location to discover we had come to the wrong carpark! After cooling off under some shade shelters and lots of bottles of water and electrolytes to re-hydrate us, we figured out where we had to get to and arranged the transporting of our bags. The next carpark location had less shade areas for us so we had to utilise some of the areas set up for activities, and the waiting began! 11am came and went with nothing changing, turns out all the coaches were being held back from entering site because they hadn’t completed the safeguarding training! Time ticked on, with us melting in the heat, some even needing to take advantage of the cool buses to cool off before passing out and all the while the organisers kept the activity programme going, despite it being hotter and the national heat wave warnings. Finally at around 2pm the coaches started to arrive, we got our kit loaded as fast as we could and we were on our way back to Seoul – in an air conditioned coach! (bliss)
Day 6 had us waking up in an air conditioned hotel, yes we were rater more cramped in the rooms with higher numbers sharing but we made the best of it and got on with things, Jamboree 2.0 had begun, we took a couple of days to catch up on sleep, and rest staying more local to the hotel, it gave us time to figure out what we were going to do now, how we were going to sort breakfast (2 hours to feed everyone in the local eateries was not working) and what possible opportunities were becoming available to the UK contingent. We had a plan… breakfast was served from our hotel rooms with everyone utilising their camp crockery sets and we were able to get through cereals, fruit & bread rolls in less than an hour, then it was up & out for the day making the most of our time.
The next 6 days saw us discovering different areas of Seoul, completing some of the Seoul Searching activities / challenges visiting some of the tourist attractions – Gyeongbokgung palace & the changing of the guards, N Seoul tower, National museum of Korea, DDP Dongdaemun design plaza, Changgyeonggung Palace, dressing up in the traditional Hanbok clothing, giving the Gangnam dance a go under the crossed hands statue, enjoying a little peace & quiet in the Starfield library and at the Bongeunsa temple, having a guided tour of the National veterans war memorial & museum, we were even gifted a book to each person. We gave the young people periods of free time (in groups) to wander and discover the areas we were in, whether it was the traditional Buckchon Hanok village and their traditional houses on very! steep streets, one of the museums, or perusing the craft shops in Insadong. Our half hourly check in selfies kept us all up to date with where everyone was and if they still had neckers / sun hats on & were drinking enough!
We had fun at the Coex Aquarium and who knew the best way to entertain everyone was just to let them loose in the Colour pool museum (colour ball pools) for a few hours – I think it was the best way for us all to just let off some steam and be silly for a while, although I’m still not sure emptying one of the ball pools to find some missing mobile phones was a good idea! Chaos ensued and it was definitely quicker to empty it than re fill it.
There was a busking performance evening on the streets of Seoul and a Cèilidh dance put on by the Scottish units in the hotel, we even managed to surprise one of our Leaders (Andy) with Hawaiian shirt Sunday, this was a tradition he had on camp but unbeknownst to him we had arranged for us all to have Hawaiian shirts with a pig theme (well we were the Hampshire Hogs!) so come Sunday morning as we all met in the lobby of the hotel ready to head out for the day we were a little disappointed that the only one missing a shirt was Andy, fear not … we had him covered as we had brought a pig themed shirt with us especially for him, so, crisis averted, and many explanations later to the CMS team & other units we were ready to head out for the day, many said we should wear the shirts all the time as they could spot us a mile off. 😊
Meals were varied and held a challenge for dietary needs. I can definitely say by the end of the trip I was chicken & riced out! I just wanted some fruit & veg.
During this time we heard the news that the rest of the jamboree site was being evacuated to Seoul due to the impending typhoon! Khanun was due to hit the Saemangeum campsite before continuing up the country to Seoul, so on the due date of reaching Seoul we woke up to rain, lots of rain! And our instructions to be back in hotel rooms by 7.30pm with a grab bag ready to go! In the end the typhoon was downgraded to a tropical storm and although there was plenty of rain, there were no floods or anything else serious, although the campsite took a battering with tents being blown away and others badly damaged with bent metal poles, so it was fortunate that everyone had been evacuated.
This enabled the organisers to bring us all back together in the Seoul world cup stadium for the closing ceremony and K-pop concert. This was a great sight seeing the stadium fill with everyone and as night fell and the concert started the sight of flickering lights around the stadium was truly impressive and marked the official end of the jamboree.
My units time in Korea continued for a further 5 days with our post jamboree time in Seoul. We were back to our original plans for these days which saw us continue our sightseeing activities including a visit to the DMZ … or sort of, it turns out the day we were due to go was a national holiday so the normal tourist locations at the DMZ were closed, so instead we had a slightly different trip visiting Imjingak Pyeonghwa Nuri Park & Camp Greaves, seeing a variety of statues, an area of ribbons left tied to fencing before experiencing some interesting / thought provoking art installations.
We had some special treats for the unit organised as well, so we took them to see a Nanta show one evening which I think was a resounding success as everyone thoroughly enjoyed this mix of sketch comedy / knife skills /drumming & audience participation, and the freshly made ice cream on the way back rounded off the evening. We also all tried our hand at some traditional craft skills with creating personal dojang chop ink pad stamp, having to carefully file away at a block of soapstone to be left with our name in Hangul lettering carved out. Not easy when you realise you should have perhaps brought your glasses! But a thoroughly enjoyable experience and a unique memento from Korea.
As our time in Korea came to a close, we had visited museums, parks, palaces, temples, the shops and markets, we had gone swimming and indulged in silliness in the ball pools. We had visited many areas of Seoul and had viewed the full 360° of the city from the N Seoul tower observatory, we had listened to the cicadas whilst we dangled our feet in the Cheonggyecheon stream, we had tasted a wide variety of food and tried different teas at a tea house (some of us even sitting on the floor for the experience). We even found a couple of restaurants that could cater for all 40 of us at once, with our dietary requirements, we booked one of these for our final meal before heading home, it was a great meal and the small restaurant setting enabled us to have a bit of a chat with everyone about our experiences and how they had all found the trip, we had asked everyone at the beginning of this journey (a year & a half ago) to write a letter to their future self, about what their hopes and expectations for the Jamboree were, we handed these letters back out to them at this juncture which resulted in some rather emotional young people after reading their letters. But it gave them time to reflect on how far they had come and how much they had experienced. It might not have been the jamboree they expected but they got to experience Korea and probably had more interaction with the local people than they would have otherwise, you couldn’t walk down a street in Seoul without someone asking ‘Jamboree?’ before wishing us well or buying us drinks / ice creams. We benefited from free entry to a lot of places and additional activities that were being put on for jamboree members.
All in all it was still a once in a lifetime experience for participants, and they did get to meet other people from different countries (we still bumped into other scouts around Seoul), they got to take part in a range of activities and visit many cultural / tourist attractions in and around the city.
Everyone will have had a unique experience and from what I could see they all thoroughly enjoyed their time.
Watching young people grow and develop on these sorts of International trips is a privilege & pleasure and it always amazes me the change that takes place in them during this time. This jamboree was no exception, the young people continually amazed us in how they coped with the changing situation and excelled when we pushed them out of their comfort zones to what we thought would be their limit if not beyond their limit. They continually surprised us with their spirit and resilience, they kept us going as much as themselves and still had smiling faces throughout.
They are an amazing bunch of young adults that exude the best in Scouting and Guiding, as Bear Grylls said in his opening ceremony speech, “ its only when we are pushed, a bit like grapes you squeeze us and you see what we are made of ….. when we are pushed we find strength … we develop our resilience” how true that statement turned out to be, our young people found reserves of strength and resilience that they may not have known they possessed, they grew as individuals and as a group, their self-belief and confidence has soared to new levels, they now know that they won’t break that they can find ways to cope with a wide range of situations and if they work together they can overcome anything.
Roll on the reunion camp and being able to reminisce on all our experiences with this wonderful group of individuals.