County News

Heather’s Jamboree Journey – Korea 2023

The selection   

Way back in Autumn 2021, I saw an advert for Guides to apply to attend the World Scout Jamboree in Korea 2023…..and that was it, I decided to apply!

Formal paperwork complete, I nervously waited to hear if I had made it to the selection day….and yes, I did!!! I went up to London on a November Saturday and met everyone else at Guide Headquarters. In patrols for the day we had tasks to complete in St James Park and a chase around London gathering answers to clues! We were sent home with a presentation to prepare – how we would spend two days in Seoul……it all looked so exciting and I enjoyed my imaginary trip.  Then came weeks of waiting to hear if I had “made the cut”….every day checking my inbox! Imagine how exciting it was to receive the email whilst out with my two best friends – I got them to read it for me, I was so nervous!!!

The Early Days

Within days of being selected I had my first zoom call with the rest of the LaSER Guiding members that had been chosen……strangers then and now travel buddies/friends for life! We also got introduced to our overall group – Unit32. We were 9 Guides, 1 Guide leader (Caroline), 27 Scouts from Greater North East London and 3 scout leaders (Lexie, Shivani and Dan_ 40 of us in total! Again our first meeting was via zoom…..the aftermath of Covid times still impacting meet ups!

We were also informed of our fundraising goal – £3800 to cover the costs of all our briefing weekends; the trip itself, the debrief and an element towards supporting scouts attending the Jamboree from other less wealthy countries. Cue all kinds of plans being drawn up as to how to achieve this!

Fundraising

So….a massive target and a cunning plan to achieve it as quickly as possible so that closer to the trip I could enjoy the build up  (and prepare for my GCSEs) without too much distraction!! First up was a Christmas Quiz – an online format available so that we could send it far and wide to friends, my parents work colleagues etc! At the start of 2022, the target was to raise £200/month – sometimes this was challenging  – and sometimes the kindness of the Guiding community( LaSER; Sussex Central County; 1st Horsham Rangers; The Horsham Guide Shop; Springfield Division) and local grants from Horsham Lions and The Rotary club gave me a massive boost. Other times saw me (with my mums help) running a fitness challenge to cover the distance from Horsham to Seoul with 20 friends/family; baking for a school cake sale and baking for Coronation Cream Teas. There were some Guiding fundraisers too –  the Beacon Lighting Tombola and Thinking Day Pop up café. My favourite fundraisers were with my Brownie pack – a canoeing day at Southwater lake and a Mother & Daughter pamper evening!

Briefing Days & Weekends

January 2022 was the first face to face get together for Unit32 – at Paxwood Campsite. We had a great day just getting to know each other and agreeing a name for our unit – the Purr Patrol, inspired by the UK Contingent tiger mascot for the Jamboree, as well as the cartoon Paw Patrol!!!

Fairly early on in our preparations, our original Unit Leader had to step down….and shortly afterwards Caroline took over being our Unit Leader – Guiding Power! And Jon became our fourth leader – and resident comedian.

Dates were set for a number of briefing days and weekends….and some unit fundraisers. As we clocked up our time together, the group moved to a seamless blend of us young people, where it was no longer relevant who was a scout or who was a guide – just who did you want to natter to today! We tried all kinds of activities – ice skating; kayaking; cooking; fire lighting; dodgeball; tie-dye….in all kinds of locations – scout campsites in north London, scout campsites in Croydon, a Korean restaurant in Canary Wharf. Most of the activities were best accessed by public transport, so I have gained a whole level of confidence in travelling by train; tram; underground and buses around London.

Some of the preparations for attending the Jamboree included well being sessions; first aid and other skills helpful for us to manage getting along together for our three week trip! So it wasn’t all just the fun stuff – some serious elements to it too.

As a Unit we were split into 4 patrols – Earth, Wind, Fire, Water……I was in the Earth patrol – and given the role of Assistant Patrol Leader, APL.

The Trip!

After countdowns that started soooo long ago, it was suddenly time to have bags packed and head for Heathrow! I had packed my bags several times over and it was great to finally get in the car and head off to join up with everyone! We were flying with Thai Airways, which meant flying via Bangkok. On our way out, this gave us just 2hrs at the airport – whereas the way back was a 11hr layover, but that’s another story!  I had never been on a longhaul flight before, so a rapid learning curve on how to get yourself comfy for a mixture of sleeping; eating and watching films! On our second flight, we met some Swedish scouts – and our badge swapping began!

Seoul – the first few days!

Wow – when we arrived, the airport was expecting us for sure! There were welcome to the scouts signs everywhere, as well as the Jamboree mascot greeting everyone! We headed out on the underground to travel to our hotel – my first time staying in luxury4Star accommodation! We were pretty travel weary so that first night, easy food from the convenience store was called for and then an early night!

29 July and our sightseeing of Seoul begins in earnest – first up the stepping stones over Cheonggyecheon stream – runs right through the city and is lovely – chance for a refreshing paddle in the heat! More scouts met – from El Salvador; Switzerland and Brazil – amazing just bumping into scouts everywhere! We included activities from the UK Contingent Seoul Searching game…and a trip to Starfield Mall for dinner.

30 July– our turn for our trip to the DMZ – Demilitarised Zone – amazing to learn all about this…..and so so hot too!

31 July – the day we learnt we would be delayed travelling to the Jamboree because of the amount of rainwater flooding the site….our first lesson in flexing the plan  – little did we know just how experienced we get with this! A great chance for a bit more handwashing in preparation for the camp, up in the Namsan Cable Car to the N Seoul Tower….and time at the market and trying out street snacks…..followed up by a pizza party in the evening (aka the leaders making sure we keep our spirits up!)

1 August – Korean Folk Village – a mix of traditional housing and culture, alongside fun fair rides – tricky to say which was the best bit!!!

2 August – hurray, finally……on our way to the Jamboree – literally couldn’t wait to get underway with the main event!!! Thank goodness for the air con coaches taking us to the site – Sanmaegeum, 4hrs south of Seoul, on reclaimed seabed.  We were so amazed when we arrived – Jamboree branding everywhere, thousands and thousands of tents stretching into the horizon and scouts everywhere!! We were excited to get to our subcamp and then onto our pitch. Our first challenge was getting the tents up – two people sharing each tent, pitched onto plastic crates to raise off the ground (in case of more flooding). We did this to the sound of the fighter jets zooming overhead practicing ahead of the Jamboree Airshow later in the camp. Then it was time to get ready for the opening ceremony – uniforms on and scarves – not melting hot at all (?)! We queued for pretty much 5hrs and sadly by the time we reached the arena it was full to capacity, so we worked out we were best to watch from our subcamp – the drone show was spectacular! We also realized its still 26 degrees at midnight – tricky to fall asleep!!

3 August – word is starting to get out about the lack of shade around the campsite – media posts about the number of people falling ill etc. And whilst the misting walkways are a good idea, there’s not very many of them and they get flooded! We were being “tempted” to Caroline’s rehydration drinks (pocari sweat) although I did also learn that I could buy cups of ice in the food tents to keep me chilled whilst meeting scouts and trading badges, hats, rucksacks – my goal was to try for a Finnish rucksack, but actually by the time I had one from the Philippines, no need to re-trade, it’s brilliant! Food is a bit variable – Jon has named it “mystery meat” as not entirely sure what it is!

4 August – again no activities today – all cancelled due to the heat, but we did have a surprise birthday party for Alice and Maria. My patrol cooked tea -breaded pork and noodles. And then…the leaders got the Haribo and Pringles out – we knew bad news was coming…….and indeed it was the worst – we were being pulled off the camp and returning to Seoul. For our Unit, we did have some people struggling with the heat, and whilst the food was poor, the toilets unpleasant, we were doing OK, so it felt like really tough news.

5 August – woke up to learn that we would be heading off the campsite today, although some units will go tomorrow. After some kerfuffle with coaches, we eventually boarded ours and headed back to Seoul. This time we were destined for the Golden Tulip hotel near Seoul airport…..approximately an hours journey from the centre of Seoul. We were allocated 4 to a bedroom – which was great to be a bit more social, but crazy on how untidy it got!!! Social media/TV/newspapers are telling the Jamboree story far and wide….

6 and 7 August were pretty quiet days as we were mainly based at the Golden Tulip – too far into city to join in any of the UK Contingent organized activities. But…..we got to have hotel corridor breakfast picnics, some self care time (with face masks being hugely popular), some shopping in the local Daiso, Starbucks and the local 24hr self service ice cream shop! As there were other Units staying in the same hotel, we did have a party evening together – pizza, quizzes and some new friends made. News came out that the whole Jamboree is likely to evacuate due to the typhoon that has been forecast.

8 August – hurray a trip out today, swimming at the Ttukseom Pool – so lovely to get in the water – might not have been that deep, but refreshing and lots of fun! In the evening we joined the UKC with their street karaoke concert.

9 August we were hosted by Korean War Veterans today – which included visiting  a memorial and museum and lunch at the Samsung VIP building. The lunch was amazing, as there was food from all over the world, giving me an opportunity to tuck into some chicken nuggets and chips (a much-enjoyed treat). They also had an all-you-can-eat waffle bar with a chocolate fountain, marshmallows, self-serve ice cream, crushed nuts, and chocolate flakes. It was definitely a very nice reminder of home. The day was rounded off with a curry, delicious!

10 August – Our morning was spent at the theatre – watching Taekwondo the Musical! Thank goodness for the subtitles – although the dancing/music was pretty good anyway! On the way back the typhoon really hit – the rain was torrential, the public safety messages told us not to be underground – bit of an issue being on the subway???? However, although we were wet through, we made it back safely and took shelter in the hotel.

11 August – taxis to transfer hotels today this time to a 5 star hotel – Novotel Ambassador Seoul Yongsan, Dragon City! Really swish – even in our children’s themed room! Then much excitement for the Closing Ceremony. Coach transfer (and how many coaches in total!) to Seoul’s World Cup Stadium. We were given goodie bags on arrival – including light up stars to wave as it goes dark. Chance to be together with all countries (around 169) taking part in Jamboree – now known as Jamboree 2.0!  There were so many K-pop bands playing, the atmosphere was amazing! Fireworks to finish with too!

12 August – possibly our best day out – starting with a trip to a very pretty waterfall….and then VIP access to Legoland Korea! We had soo much fun – and were treated so well!

13 August and we were off to the Bukchon Hanok Village – we were all dressed in traditional clothing to tour around the village. Crazy hot, but a brilliant time had.

14 August – all of a sudden its our last day…how has that happened?   We first took a trip to a traditional temple, which gave us opportunity to witness a service. It was really interesting. Then we were given free time, so me and my friends visited haribo world and a 12 storey Daiso for some last minute shopping. Finally we went out for a final dinner and some surprise karaoke, which was really fun. Then, back to our hotel for packing, which was really tricky as we somehow had to repack our bags plus all our souvenirs and have it under 30kg. I managed to get mine down to 24kg but many of my friends struggled and ended up with 29+kg!!

15 August – crazy early morning start to get to the airport…..and then off we head home, via Bangkok and a 11hr lay over. Thankfully a fashion show, playing with the robot cleaner and Just Dance kept us occupied before the final flight home.

Summary

Its been an amazing 18 months or so….highlights would definitely be:

  • Making so many new friends – within my Unit, within the UK and within worldwide scouting
  • Learning so many skills before I even left the UK –eg confidence in using public transport; fundraising and project management
  • The Jamboree experience – crazy as it was, still amazing!
  • Learning so much about the Korean culture and history, particularly as we had additional day trips and cultural experiences during Jamboree 2.0
  • How to cope in extreme circumstances – the weather conditions, the Jamboree conditions, the constantly shifting set of plans for our trip once it began

And I still have the debrief/reunion  weekend to go!!!

I am hugely grateful to everyone that helped make this happen for me – and in particular, to our Unit Leaders – Caroline, Lexie, Shivani and Jon. Thank you so much for your support.