A leaders experience of the World Scout Jamboree
23rd October 2023
My name is Dan Hunt and I am ADC Cubs for Ashford and a Cub leader at 1st Willesborough. I was one of 3 leaders from Ashford that was selected as IST (International Service Team) for WSJ in South Korea. The other 2 people were my son Jonathan Hunt (a Cub leader with me at 1st Willesborough) and Mark Boughton a Cub Leader at 1st Charing.
I travelled out with my son and left on the 26th July. We had a 13 hour direct flight and arrived in Seoul 5pm Local time the next day. Korea is 8 hours ahead of us. The first thing that hit me was the heat and humidity. 34 degrees with 70% humidity.
We spent 2 days in Seoul, sight seeing and getting use to the heat. My son and I visited the Korean palace and the DMZ with other IST. We also met some of the Argentinian contingent in a local bar and spent the evening talking to them.
On 29th July we were transported to the Jamboree site. We had to sign in at the welcome centre, then we were transferred to the sub camp we were camping in. From where I was dropped off, I still had a 20 minute walk to my tent pitching area. This was with all luggage across uneven stoney ground then soft sandy ground. The heat and humidity was also more intense than in Seoul. The mosquitoes were also an issue we had to learn to deal with. As I was going to find out over the next 8 days, no anti mosquito spray seemed to work and they also bit though clothing. Once I met up with my tent buddy we pitch our tent on top of 4 plastic pallets. This was to protect against flooding.
Over the next 2 to 3 days it was getting the site ready for the participants. There was lots to do as the site was no where near ready. The Food Houses were shells and took 4 days of hard work getting them ready. There were disabled facilities that had no access. The UK contingent took it on themselves to solve this. I was personally involved in this. On the evening of the 2nd day it rained for 40 to 50 minutes and flooded the site. All IST from every country spent the next couple of days digging drainage ditches to clear the water from all the sub camps.
The UK contingent as well as the Dutch, Americans and Germans, took the decision to delay the arrival on site of the young people as they felt the site was not ready. We were glad when the participants were finally allowed on site. They managed to get on site in time for the opening ceremony. Everyone liked the speech from Bear Grylls. For me the best bit of the opening ceremony was the drone show.
Over the next 8 days I meet some fantastic people from all over the world. The ones I remember the most are from Malaysia, Argentina, Norway, Panama, Netherlands, Canada, USA and Australia.
I was assigned to the Food House. The Food Houses are a chance for countries to show other countries their food culture. I was working as Operations Support, which means I was helping the Operations Manager fix issues and unload the deliveries. I also have normal cooking duties in the kitchen. It took the first 4 days just to get Food Houses into a position so they could open. There were multiple challenges that each country over came. We all helped each other and a good little community started to be built. The only thing was the 50 minute walk from the IST sub camp to the Food House area in the heat and humidity.
On the 4th August we all got the news that we were leaving the Jamboree site along with the USA. The reasons given were the heat and humidity, mosquitos, the food and the sanitation. I can say that the food was poor. I had lots and lots of rice. The lunch was sugar on sugar and most of the time went in the bin. When the Food Houses opened I made the decision to pay for food and not to have the free food. The toilets were also very bad. Most were blocked and not cleaned at all. It was the right decision. Everything that was on the news was true.
The last day on site was emotional as even though I knew it was the right decision I didn’t want to leave as I had meet lots of people from different countries. People from other countries told me that they would struggle with the 1000 IST going from the UK.
All the IST were moved to hotels in Incheon which is an hour’s train ride from Seoul. All of the units were moved to hotels in Seoul. The UK contingent management team did a great job moving and finding places for 4000 people at short notice.
We were told we are moving the UK part of the Jamboree to Seoul and we all were needed for jobs. We were pivoting and adapting to make the rest of the time as fun and special as we could for the participants. I got put on Unit Support. This meant I was going to go out with which ever unit I was put with and help the Unit leaders. I got put with a Devon unit as the Kent units were so well supported. I also found my son was also put with this unit.
On the first day supporting the unit we met them at the Lottie Tower in Soeul. It took us 2 hours to get there from the hotel. The Lottie Tower is the 5th highest building in the world, standing at 555 meters tall. Once we met the unit. It became obvious we would need to support an explorer called Stan who was in a wheelchair. He had limited mobility and can climb stairs slowly if need be. This would become useful negotiating the Seoul Metro system.
We also visited the Blue House which used to be the presidential palace. We also found out that the Korean people were so embarrassed by our experience, the authorities closed some tourist venues to the public (including the Blue House) and opened them just to the Scouts. We also met the Korean Foreign Minister. It ended up being a long tiring day. We left the hotel at 7am and got back to the hotel at 11 pm. I had great fun.
The next few days we meet the Unit at their hotel after leaving ours at 6:30 am. We then journeyed to the Seoul Olympic park and went to a theatre there to watch a play. It was a cross between High School Musical, a panto and a Taekwondo exhibition. It was great. We even got to see the unit leader called up onto the stage and break a board.Tthe unit took part in bases that the UK contingent put on in the Olympic park. It was great to see them having so much fun. One even said that the Jamboree wasn’t what they expected, but they feel that they are part of something unique and won’t be repeated. They also said that they were still having fun and meeting so many new people.
One of the things that struck me when we were out in public was how pleased the Korean people were to see us and how many came up to us to say how sorry they were on our experience. I had some wonderful conversations with Koreans that started this way. Again we got back to our hotel at 11pm. We also heard that the Korean government was closing the Jamboree down due to the typhoon that was coming our way.
One day we stayed at the hotel as a typhoon was heading our way. It gave me a chance to catch up on my washing (spent 1 and a half hours in the laundrette) and resting. In the evening we were not allowed out of the hotel for safety reasons. The Scottish members of the contingent put on a Caleigh and we got to try Scottish dancing while the typhoon was raging outside.
The fpllowing night we went to the closing ceremony and K-pop concert. It was a thrilling experience. It showed that the Koreans were really making an effort to make a mends for what happened. It was a great way to finish my time in Korea.