HUNTINGTON — Bringing together roughly 45,000 scouts from about 167 countries around the world with goals of promoting peace, education, understanding, leadership and other life skills, the stage is set for the 24th World Scout Jamboree to begin Monday, July, 22, at the Summit Bechtel Reserve along the scenic New River Gorge near Beckley.
For 12 days, scouts will participate in various events and activities at the world-class training, scouting and adventure center, including scuba diving, sport shooting, canoeing, zip lining, mountaineering, biking, rock climbing and more.
Nearly 2,000 scouts from Sweden - making up the third largest contingent of scouts from any country attending the jamboree, behind only the United States and the United Kingdom - made their way to West Virginia a few days early, staying in residence halls on Marshall University's campus while soaking in as much local culture as possible before the jamboree begins Monday.
The Swedish scouts split into four different groups for two weeks of travel prior to arriving in Huntington on Saturday evening, said Frederik Berg, a member of the planning team for the trip. The groups began their journeys in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and New York respectively, with scouts traveling to major American cities like Memphis, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and several others.
While in Huntington, scouts participated in several activities on Marshall's campus, including a barbecue Sunday afternoon and a high school prom-themed event in the evening.
"Just to be able to meet with scouts from all over the world is very valuable," said Berg, who was also a unit leader at the World Scout Jamboree in Japan four years ago. "They can share experiences, values and cultures and help educate each other along the way."
David Eklund, one of the scouts staying on Marshall's campus, is a 17-year-old who studies social studies with an international focus at the International School of the Gothenburg Region in Sweden. He said the trip is his first time visiting the U.S., and he thinks he may decide to move to America when he is older.
Some of Eklund's favorite moments of the trip so far have been visiting New York City, canoeing in the Delaware River, trying cheesecake in Philadelphia and seeing the White House in Washington D.C., he said.
"My favorite thing about America so far is the landscape. When traveling between cities, it is really beautiful," Eklund said. "Everything feels so vast compared to Sweden, which is actually also quite big, but it is like an entirely different feeling here."
Eklund said he is most excited to try the climbing facility at the Summit Bechtel Reserve, which is the largest man-made climbing facility in the country.
Tove Ekroth, another of the Swedish scouts, who studies society and social sciences and would like to be a journalist when she is older, said her favorite feature of her travels so far, in addition to the endless excitement and learning opportunities, has been meeting so many new people.
"Everyone is so nice here," Ekroth said. "In Sweden, people more often keep to themselves, and you can just ask for help if you need it. But here, if you just look lost, people will come help you."
Ekroth said one of the most inspiring moments she has experienced on the trip so far was a simple moment of kindness from a group of strangers in Chicago who volunteered to help her and some friends find a place to eat after noticing they seemed lost.
"That may have been my favorite moment so far," she said. "They were just so invested in trying to help us."
The World Scout Jamboree runs through Aug. 2 at the 14,000-acre site in Fayette County, which is the permanent home of the National Scout Jamboree.
Held every four years, this year's World Scout Jamboree is being jointly hosted by national scouting organizations from the United States, Canada and Mexico. This is only the second time for the event to be held in the United States; the first was in 1967 in Idaho.
Those interested in more information about the 2019 World Scout Jamboree, including additional background information, a day-to-day schedule of events and activities and how to purchase visitor passes, can visit www.2019wsj.org.