World Scout Jamboree — A somewhat brief summary

22 October 2019

So, I’ve been presented with the challenge of condensing a 3 week long, life-changing event into a brief summary. Let's begin, shall we?

The adventure started by meeting at one of Baden Powells old homes, the 40 of us coming together to begin our adventure, we then hopped on the coach towards Heathrow, wondered around terminal 5 before boarding our long haul flight, a first for many of us.

7 hours later, we arrive at JFK, we depart the plane, go through customs and walk straight into 38° heat. 40 British people all complain about the heat and we board a coach towards the Uni we’re staying at in New York City. We arrive, find our rooms, unload our bags and head straight back into NYC on amazing yellow school buses! We visit Time Square, have dinner at McDonald's and see the outskirts of Central Park before heading back to the Uni to sleep after a 30hr day.

Day 2: early start, all 4,000 UK Scouts head into NYC to unleash tourist chaos! We break off into groups of 20 from Grand Central Station where we then visit Brooklyn Bridge and the 9/11 memorial before we catch a ferry across to New Jersey and begin our 2-day coach trip to the Bechtel Summit Reserve. (The other group visited the Statue of Liberty)

We talk relentlessly on the coach, watch Netflix and sleep, spirits still running high with excitement, as the night drew near we arrived at our overnight stay, West Virginia University. We got off the coach found our dorm rooms again and chatted till the night was late and we went to bed.

This is the day we arrive at the Jamboree, we ate a hearty breakfast at the University, re-boarded the coach and set off on the last 2hr leg until we arrived at the Jamboree Campsite, the energy really was building.
At first, we arrived at the wrong entrance, the IST and staff entrance, so had to be turned around and sent the right way, a way with a much longer queue once we found it. We picked up the guide to our pitch and started driving through the tracks of the reserve passing many exciting sights we couldn’t wait to explore.
Tipping it down with rain, we all got off the coach and headed to our site, very kindly one of the other countries had put up a dining shelter for us so we had somewhere dry to put our bags. We set the tents up and sorted our site out before assigning tents and then exploring our Sub Camp, we were on F, the smallest one and yet, it was still one of the largest fields of tents and toilet blocks we had seen! Dwarfing most whole campsites, this one subcamp started to put into perspective the immense size of the whole Jamboree. We ate dinner and fell asleep for the first night; ready to explore more the next day.

Tipping it down with rain, we all got off the coach and headed to our site, very kindly one of the other countries had put up a dining shelter for us so we had somewhere dry to put our bags. We set the tents up and sorted our site out before assigning tents and then exploring our Sub Camp, we were on F, the smallest one and yet, it was still one of the largest fields of tents and toilet blocks we had seen! Dwarfing most whole campsites, this one subcamp started to put into perspective the immense size of the whole Jamboree. We ate dinner and fell asleep for the first night; ready to explore more the next day.

First full jamboree day: We wake up ready for an 8.00 clock breakfast and excited to explore (for the first time) this unknown location. I depart with Zara and Rosemary and we decide to head towards the Scott Summit Centre, where everything seems to be happening, not wanting to miss anything we decide to walk instead of catching the bus, 40 minutes it took. In that time we met all corners of the globe, hundreds of excited Scouts all ready for the 10 days ahead of us!
We arrive at the AT&T Stadium, with capacity for 50,000 people, it was an enormous open-air, tiered stadium surrounded by white marques which we later discovered contained the culture area.
Across the expanse, we spot the campsite sign featured in a few of the advertising photos so decide to go take a selfie with it. Once we arrive we strike up a conversation with some Aussies and people from Wales, next thing we know we're taking a selfie with them, some Brazilians and Hong Kongers and we all share it between ourselves, connecting with our Novuses (watch-like devices that allowed you to instantly share social media details with others you choose by clicking them) for future communications.
We carry on walking around, going in a lot of the white tents and just generally exploring before we have to make the 40 min return journey to our campsite for dinner.

To be honest, a lot of my time in West Virginia is one massive timeless blur so all of the following will be presented as if its the correct order, though it may be wrong… for the sake of this piece, please don’t fact check any of the orders!
Furthermore, I’m going to refer to a couple of places by name, as such I recommend looking over the site map so you have a better context of where everything is, though this shouldn’t be necessary.

Once we had dinner we then went to the first base camp bash (on our very own F), where we listened to country music performances and danced with people from across the globe, before eventually sitting down and talking to one of the Dutch groups that happily managed to be located near-by our pitch.

As the music carried on, everyone enjoying the glow sticks, inflatable balls and general party atmosphere, we shared stories of our adventure so far, life at home and everything else strangers from two completely different countries decide to talk about, eventually 11 o’clock rolled around and after a busy day that started at 7.30 am we headed off to our tents to sleep on the lovely camp beds.
The nights were sometimes cold enough you had to be in your sleeping bag but at other times you just had it on top of you otherwise it would be too warm, either way, it was normally quite humid.

The next day we had breakfast and headed back into the main area, this time with a slightly better idea of where we were going. Having explored the initial summit centre and deciding we would have to go back for a full day later into the event, for the second full day we decided to carry on past the marques and stadium heading in an unknown direction but from which many people seemed to be coming from.
We ended up at the Action Point, with the Canopy Tour in-front of us, BMX’ing and skateboarding to the left and right, queues of people everywhere with participants bustling with conversation and excitement, waiting in line to get involved with activities.
Furthermore, there was the CONSOL Energy Bridge, an impressive suspension bridge that connected the action point with sub-camps A and B, it offered views across the valley with mountain bikes riding below us and mountains all around. It also had a platform you could walk up for better vantage, we decided to take a group photo with the Aussies from the other day up there which quickly became a photo with everyone on the viewing platform!
We then headed to the underneath part of the bridge, an area we discovered had become a hub of badge swapping, with black market-esque vibes, trades all laid out on blankets for you to look at.
It was approaching lunch and we began to feel a bit hungry, we left the Aussies and decided to head towards the food houses, marque restaurants representing the foods of their countries. Brazil, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and a couple of others were the options, we decided to buy a Columbian coffee, non-alcoholic German beer, Dutch Croquettes and finished it off with a chocolate cake from the UK. All in all, it was a very good selection of food with people sat in the main dining hall eating and socialising with whoever decided to sit next to them.

Because of how many people were arriving at the Summit, it took about 2 or 3 days for everyone to arrive, as such “the first day” of the jamboree wasn’t our first day but was the day everyone had finally arrived, as such it was time for the opening ceremony. We headed back towards the AT&T Summit where we met up with the rest of our Unit and found a place to stand, at the back of the front section and slightly to the left of the middle. We were just in front of one of the middle-performance areas and screens for the back which meant for the warm-up acts, not only could we watch them on the massive screens next to the main stage at the front, we could turn around and watch them in person as well.
The opening ceremony started with a performance from percussionists playing upside-down bins, featured a street dancer and then opened with the hosts, a member from the US, Canada and Mexico (with the Canadian being introduced with bagpipes and the mounted police) walking on stage and starting the proceedings. The ceremony then featured a few speeches, a visit from Bear Grylls, all filling us with messages of community and peace as we started our time together. We then got performances from Recycled Percussion who used bins, ladders and angle grinders as instruments before the show concluded with a stunning drone performance, drones flying around to create moving images in the sky with colourful lights on each one. Then, we went back to our site talking to people from Dorset on the way(exciting and far-flung I know) and went to bed.

The next few days we took part in various activities including shooting, climbing (where we joined some people from South Carolina) and the GLOBE leadership challenge (an escape room that ended with a report on leadership styles and techniques and ways to work as a group, very informative and insightful).
We also went around the Global Development Village, an area filled with displays for other exciting international opportunities and World Scouting projects. Amazing adult volunteers guiding us around and passing on their enthusiasm for the events.
After going through the village and getting a massive pepperoni pizza for lunch, we headed over to the Sustainability Treehouse. Made of resources flown in by helicopter, the treehouse is an exhibition demonstrating how nature renews itself and how we can be more environmentally friendly day-to-day as individuals.
After we finished going around the display we made our way towards the cultural village, a street of marques filled with displays and activities each representing their own country. The UK’s pavilion was decorated to look like a tube on the outside and featured cutouts of the royal family and beefeaters to take pictures with, as well as many other activists on the inside. Peru had an inflatable alpaca, Egypt let you write in hieroglyphs and Canada let you shoot pucks into an ice-hockey net. The Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland) shared a combined, rather large tent and if you completed all 5 activities you completed the ‘Nordic Challenge’ and received a badge and some extra Novus Points.

Then it became Wednesday; significant not only for the fact that this was half-way through the jamboree experience but also because it was culture day; a day when all activities were closed and instead, each unit hosted their own activities on their campsites. It’s a day dedicated to meeting new people and learning about other countries cultures (hence the name). As such Rose, Ewan, Zara and I decided we wanted to see as many sites as possible, with A and B sub-camps being next to each other, this seemed like the best place to go, even if it was an hour walk.
On our way there we passed one of the other Hampshire groups and stopped to talk to our friends within it, ask them how they were doing, what they’d been up to, etc. before we carried on.

Once we arrived, having crossed the suspension bridge once again, we first visited a Taiwanese unit, with the opportunity to write a message in Mandarin, try green tea and decorate a traditional fan to cool us down, it was a fantastic place to start. Then, we slowly made our way around trying Danish sweets (somewhat salty), Finnish sweets (strangely spicy), Italian pasta (terribly tasty), Chilean Mate (a caffeinated drink made from dried plant leaves) and Mauritian Chilli’s (very small and very spicy, like a knife into the tongue). As well as throwing a Nokia, smelling frankincense (from Oman), and taking selfies with people all dressed in traditional attire, we thoroughly enjoyed the day. By the time we arrived at the Australians campsite (from the other day), it turned out the fun police had told them to put their bullwhip away so we couldn’t have a try at being Indiana Jones but we did end up playing cards, learning a new game called ‘Mao’, an irritating yet highly entertaining game that quickly caught on with the rest of our Unit to the point we ended up playing it even on the way to the airport and home.

As it was a special day, their was to be a show in the main stage (called the Unity Show), so as the time quickly approached we decided to start making our way back, stopping by the food houses for dinner (we had pasta from the Italian stand and maple syrup pancakes from the Canadian one) we carried onwards to the main stage where we would be meeting with the rest of our unit ready to watch the show.

It once again started with warm-up acts, this time featuring Mariachi dancing and just dance songs to join along with on the screens. Then the show began, opening with representatives of faiths from all around the world reciting key messages about unity and being part of a global community from their respective religions before the MC’s entered the stage and introduced a Native American Chieftain who would be teaching us about their culture within modern American society. We then heard from the UN Youth Envoy and a few more young people representing their religions before the show concluded with a ‘campfire’ being lit, all of our Novus’s light up in reds, oranges and yellows before a phoenix dropped down from the stage; this was the introduction for the Broadway singers to come out and begin their performance. Singing songs including Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Under the Sea and ending with Let it Go from Frozen (something we sang along to quite heartily), the performance was fantastic! We joined our Dutch friends partway through where we danced away and began the return to our sub-camp (a 30 min walk at roughly 10-11 pm with next to no light pollution), we arrived, went our separate ways and back to bed after yet another exciting day.

Between then and the closing ceremony we went around the Faith and Beliefs tent, learning about religions all around the world and getting our names in henna from the Islam stand and then turbans from the Sikh display as well as learning about many other different religions. It was an insightful and eye-opening day, allowing us the opportunity to speak with people of all different beliefs; the guy who tied our turban grew up in London and shared his philosophy behind his turban and how it is like his crown.

We woke up early one morning, having breakfast at 6 am, as a unit we all wanted to head down for the White Water Rafting, the opportunity to go off-site and paddle down a mountain gorge. We lined up for an hour waiting for the school buses to come to collect us and then we loaded up, having listened to the safety briefing, and went off towards the river, it was about a 30 minute, winding journey and once we arrived we were confronted by a row of blue inflatables capable of carrying up to 10 people.
We split into our groups, met our instructors and headed off onto the water, paddling down the river. A raft with our unit in-front and another behind and we were joined by some Mexicans and Bolivians as we weaved between the rocks in the white water. In the calms, we were able to jump out and swim around, backflipping off the rafts and splashing each other.
All in all, it was a fantastic 3 hrs but eventually, it came to an end, we got off, back onto the riverbank and got the school buses back to the Summit.

After 10 days of action-packed, international interaction, learning new skills and making memories that will last a lifetime, it was time for the closing ceremony, we made sure to get there nice and early, walking along the damn, surrounded by international groups for one last time. We made sure to get our spot, at the back of the front section and slightly to the left of the middle; just in front of one of the middle-performance areas and screens for the back, making us nice and close to the warm-up acts.

Despite our readiness, one uncontrollable factor arose: the weather. Due to the lightning warning the ceremony was delayed for over an hour, 40,000 people all waiting for it to clear up so that the final ceremony could begin. It opened with stunt parachuters from the American Marines jumping out and then, another delay later began with the hosts coming out to begin the show. Former Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General and Committee Chairman of World Scouting Ahmad Alhendawi and Craig Turpie respectively all gave inspiring speeches talking about our next steps as international citizens and how we can be agents of change in our home communities.

It had been rumoured there'd be a celebrity performance for the closing ceremony, and we were all excited, hesitant to believe the rumours, but as the closing performance began, Pentatonix (an American a cappella group) came out, performing as part of their world tour! Unfortunately due to time constraints caused by the weather delay their show was an abridged version but they managed to perform many of their main songs and said we were their biggest audience ever! After their performance the hosts returned but were promptly interrupted by a robot take over that caused Light Balance (an LED dance troupe) to perform, before a laser, smoke and firework show began, lighting up the West Virginian skyline and filling it with music and the noise of tens of thousands of young people celebrating a fantastic, once in a lifetime event.

We all went to bed, for our last night, happy we had had a fantastic time, maybe not ready for the 4 am start the next day but certainly ready for Washington DC.
We woke early, put down our tents, packed away all the equipment and made our way towards the coach that would be taking us on the day-long trip to the capital, Maryland University to be specific.

4,500 UK Scouts stayed at Maryland for the 3 days and in that time, a Contingent Tea Party took place, we had a day around DC seeing the sights and museums (with a little shopping thrown in) and watched Baltimore Orioles play Toronto Blue Jays in a game of baseball. It was a fantastic time and I fell in love with the city, it felt clean and spacious; where other cities will slowly becoming busier and busier throughout the day, it felt like this didn’t happen in DC and the atmosphere was always relatively relaxed and reasonable.

The baseball match, however, was very different, we went into the game, all 4,500 with our UK football attitude to sport, creating chants and celebrating the game vocally in a way that attracted the national media, the ‘International Anthony Santander Fan Club’ was born celebrating the work of Anthony Santander the player closest to us…

Then, after a wonderful time in Washington, we jumped back on a coach and headed to the Canadian Border, an easy experience that just involved throwing our passports in a bucket as they inspected the coach. We arrived at our hosts and set up our site, we stayed at Camp Bel and would be sharing with 9 other Units. The first day was dedicated to activities on-site, smashing a car and printing designs on t-shirts, ending with our unit just sat chatting away and playing cards, the reason behind our name Hampshire Aces.
The second day we headed off to Niagara Falls, nice and early, to enjoy our full day there. We rode the boat into the fall, went through the tunnels, enjoyed a 4D experience learning about the formation of the falls before we had to get back on the coach towards the campsite, due to limitations on a drivers hours, we had to schedule ourselves carefully if we were to catch our flight.

We headed back to the campsite, after a fantastic visit to the falls and played more cards, had dinner and went to bed, ready for the 3 am departure.

We woke, packed our sleeping bags and overnight stuff and began on our journey to JFK. Most of us slept the whole time, being woken up for American Border Control who made us get off the coach and talk to border force before we got back on the coach and immediately fell asleep again. Once we arrived at JFK, we tipped the driver who worked very closely with us to ensure we made our flight. Then wandered around the airport for a bit, and boarded our flight, heading back off to Heathrow.

I watched more films, enjoyed the in-flight meal and slept a bit, not looking forward to my quick turn around as I was out to Spain the same day we returned to see my Dad. The flight landed, we all got woken up, unloaded, through UK border control, then onto the coach back to Hampshire, likely the last time we would all see each other, it was an emotional time not only because we looked forward to seeing our families again but because we knew the Jamboree had come to an end, a stunning conclusion after 2 years of training and team building we were back in the UK all exhausted and ready to go our beds, all already reminiscing on all the time we spent together.

It was a fantastic, incredible experience which I hope this (not very) brief summary successfully gets across. For anyone reading, I highly recommend you have an international experience at least once in your life, whether it be through Scouts or as a family, the world is filled with so many unique cultures, each with their own tales to offer, each with their own history and foods to offer. The world is a vast place of wonder and I can’t wait to explore more of it.