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So, your daughter or son wants to go to the 2023 World Scout Jamboree in South Korea, but you’re not so sure yet. I get it. I remember asking my Cub Scout age son if he wanted to go to the National Jamboree, and he replied, “I don’t think so.  I think I’ll wait for the World Jamboree in Japan.”   His plans didn’t change, and he went on to two World Scout Jamborees, and a World Scout Moot in Iceland.

As a parent and a former unit leader for a Jambo troop, let me share some of my experiences regarding the World Scout Jamboree as you consider whether it is worth the investment for your child.  

1. Investment – Yes, it’s an investment.   At the “shakedown” campout for our Jamboree unit that was headed to the 2015 World Scout Jamboree in Japan, I told them that they will be changed by their experience in Yamaguchi.  They will see the world in a different way.  Six year later, I still have Scouts telling me how the Jamboree experience changed their life, provided new friendships from around the world, and connecting them to global issues.  Jamboree is expensive, but it is a worthwhile investment in your child’s understanding of the world, and connecting to a global Scouting family.  

I encourage you to read the blog post by Kate Mulcahy, “Parent to Parent: 10 Reasons You Should Send Your Teen to the World Jamboree.”

 2.  Safety – Let’s be honest.  It is a little scary putting your 14 or 15 year child on a plane with 39 strangers to a country on the other side of the world, for a two-week adventure.   In a time when many of us are “helicopter” parents, it can be hard to let them go so far away, for so long, seemingly alone.  Can you imagine what it was like for parent 100 years ago who put their sons on a boat to England or Denmark for a 6 week Jamboree adventure?  Some things to consider:

  •  South Korea is a very safe and friendly country.  I travelled to Korea with my family two years ago for almost three weeks. We found that most Koreans were very helpful, kind and courteous.  Many went out of their way to show hospitality and interest. They hold Americans in high regard, as we are still remembered for our role in the Korean War.  In fact, one elderly veteran on the subway pulled me aside and asked if we were American.  When I replied yes, he thanked me profusely for saving his country.  It is not unusual to see American flags flying in Seoul.
  • Unit leaders are selected and trained for their competence and experience with leading Scout adventures.  Their applications are reviewed by the Contingent Management Team (CMT), interviewed, and vetted by their home Council.  They will take BSA Youth Protection Training as well as WOSM’s Safe From Harm training.  Contingent Unit Leaders will receive Jamboree specific training and support from the CMT.  Most will have their Wood Badge beads, and have held unit leader positions for a significant amount of time.  I encourage you to get to know your child’s unit leaders by having one-on-one conversations by phone or zoom over the next 22 months.
  • Health Care – The Jamboree site will have its own medical clinic, outfitted with a wide range of diagnostic and therapeutic technologies on-site.  It is staffed 24/7 by volunteer physicians and nurses from around the world. It is managed by the head physician of one of South Korea’s largest hospitals.  There is also a major hospital within 30 minutes.  Each sub camp will have a staffed first aid station.  Unit leaders will receive first aid training as well.  The BSA Contingent has a licensed physician on its management team, who will be able to advise and assure that contingent members from the USA are healthy, and receiving appropriate medical care.  If a Scout is sick or injured, you can expect regular communication from the CMT and unit leader on his/her care.  
  • Staying healthy – The biggest threat to health at the Jamboree will be heat-related issues.  It will be hot and humid.  Scouts will need to constantly stay hydrated, protect their head and body from sun exposure, and to watch for signs of heat exposure and exhaustion.  

3.  Where the magic happens:  As parents, we have the tendency to evaluate experiences (especially for our kids) on features and benefits.  As a unit leader, I would get questions like, “what merit badges can they earn?” or “how will this help her get Eagle?”.  Because the last Jamboree was held at the Summit, some parents said, “Oh, my kid went there for National Jamboree, so they’ve done all of that stuff.”   

While the educational, recreation, technology and global village programs are engaging and fun, what Scouts will remember the most is what happens after dinner (and sometimes dinner itself). That is when they drift over to the campsite next door, or share a meal with a unit from a different country.  Scouts are thrilled at learning how similar, and different, Scouts from other countries are.  They make lifelong friendships, and their world gets a lot smaller.  This is the magic of the World Jamboree.   Read my post on the “Longer Table” here.

4.  Jamboree Life:  Scouts are expected to be self-sufficient, just like Scout camp.  They will figure out a duty roster, choose menus, pick up food and cook it every day.  They will be responsible for taking showers, washing their clothes and keeping their tent clean.  They will try to find a balance between social activity and sleep.  Adult leaders will keep a close eye on the Scouts, helping and guiding them when needed, and stepping in when health and safety issues are in play (Tommy – how many days since your last shower?).  At the South Korean Jamboree, Scouts will be in single tents (one person per tent).

Jamboree life is hard work.  The day starts around 7:00 am and often ends around midnight.  Good sleep is sometimes hard to find.  Everyone is hot and sweaty.  The shower lines are long.  For some, meeting new people is a challenge.  Add to that jet lag, language differences, and the occasional social drama or power struggle.  Scouts often need reminders to eat well, drink lots of water, sleep and to find some balance. Jamboree life requires some maturity and self-sufficiency.  

5.  Additional Needs:  The Jamboree and the US Contingent Management Team will work hard to accommodate Scouts with additional needs.  If your Scout has additional needs, please reach out to a member of the Contingent Management Team or a unit leader to discuss those needs and accommodations (including medications) as soon as possible. 

6.  Pre-Trip and Travel Logistics: Scouts will meet their units at an airport “relatively” close to their geographic center.  Some Scouts may need to take a connecting flight to meet their units.  Getting 500+ Scouts and leaders to Incheon International Airport within a few hours of each other is logistically challenging, and comes with some risk of cancelled flights, missed connections and lost baggage.  Welcome to international travel.

The CMT will do its best to minimize risk and get everyone to Seoul on time.  We understand, however, that stuff happens, and we have to make contingency plans for unforeseen circumstances.  You and your Scout will receive instructions on how to travel safely, and what to do if something happens, such as a cancelled flight or lost luggage.  They’ll have a Plan A, B, C and so on.  Fortunately, cell phones, texting, and being prepared makes these plans manageable.  

Prior to the Jamboree, the Contingent will tour Seoul and parts of South Korea.  This is a great experience for Scouts, full of historic sites, urban shopping, Kpop music, and maybe even some Noraebang (Korean Karaoke).

Meals, transportation, and housing will be provided by the host (Korean Scout Association), along with a guide. Units of 36 Scouts and 4 adult leaders will stay together for the entire time.  Scouts will need to pay attention to the leaders and guide to understand travel logistics and times.  

Scouts will often wear contingent or unit  t-shirts, or their “Class A” uniforms, along with matching neckers to make it easier for Scouts to stick together.  We use the “buddy system” at all times.

After the Jamboree, your Scout will pack up their gear, board a bus to Incheon International Airport (about a 3 hour drive north) and connect with their flight to the States.  Many units will have connecting flights to bring them back to their point of departure.  

Final Thoughts

I was in line at my local bagelry,  dressed in full Scout uniform, buying breakfast for the other leaders in our Jamboree unit.  It was our first in-person meeting, and I was pretty excited about it.  It is not unusual for someone to comment about Scouting when I am in the community, so I wasn’t surprised when an elderly woman stopped to tell me a story.  Paraphrasing here, this is what she said:

“My brother went to the World Scout Jamboree in Japan in 1971.  He climbed Mt. Fuji and got rained out on the way down the mountain.  He’s an Eagle Scout too.  He made so many friends in Japan – from all over the world.  We’ve listened to his stories for years.  His best friends are those he met at the Jamboree.  There are four Scouts – each from different countries – who still keep in touch (44 years later).  They started by writing letters to each other – now it is by email and Facebook.  The Jamboree changed his life.”

I’ve heard that story over and over again, from Scouts who went to the World Jamboree in Budapest in 1933 to those who attended the last one in 2019 in West Virginia.  It is transformative.  Scouting’s founder had a hunch that would happen when he gathered Scouts from 100+ countries in 1920, right after the first World War.  Jamboree is not just an event or reunion, it is an act of Peace.   I hope your Scout can join us in SaeManGeum. They’ll never forget it. 

 –  Mark Beese, parent, volunteer, and former Jamboree Unit Leader