Five Things I Learned From the Disney College Program
Once upon a time, my boss was a cartoon mouse, and it was the greatest job I’ll ever have.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved Disney. From Disney movies to family vacations at Walt Disney World, it has always been an important part of my life. This deeply rooted love has become even stronger as I have gotten older. Anyone who knows me, knows how much Disney means to me. Even around campus, I show my love with Mickey Mouse plastered all over my backpack, phone case, watch, and sometimes even my clothes.
I had always imagined working at Disney World, and in 2015 that dream became a reality, thanks to the Disney College Program. I first heard of the Disney College Program from my cousin who was a “cast member” (Disney’s special term for employees) during my first semester in college. I knew the program was my chance to finally make a lifelong dream come true.
The Disney College Program is an opportunity unlike any other. To sum up the program in the simplest terms, college students take a semester off of school and work for Disney parks to gain work experience and networking opportunities, while making lifelong memories. (Learn more about it here).
On Oct. 24, 2014, I received the greatest news. After applying three times, I had finally been accepted to the Disney College Program. I still vividly remember the day. I woke up late for class, threw on whatever clothes I had picked up off my floor, and ran to the Tiger Transit stop. As I rode to class, I checked the notifications on my phone. I noticed that I had an email in my school account and secretly hoped that it was my professor telling me the class I was late for had been cancelled. What I found instead was even better. It was from Disney. All I saw was “Congratulations!” in the subject line and started crying. Yes, I cried on the transit, y’all. And if you’re wondering, I ended up missing class.
The rest of my semester was practically irrelevant because Disney was near. The waiting was the worst part, but eventually the glorious day finally came. Jan. 26, 2015 was one of the most magical days of my life. Not only was it my 21st birthday, but I got to celebrate it by moving to Orlando to work at Walt Disney World. Now, I’m not saying it’s a competition or anything, but like, how cool was your birthday? Okay.
The Disney College Program was one of the most amazing and educational experiences I’ve ever been a part of. Everything I learned from my time with Disney made me who I am today— and for that, I am forever grateful. I learned so many things from my experiences and the people I met, but I think that most of what I learned can be summed up in these five things:
Nothing Will Work Unless You Do.
Disney is the ultimate résumé booster. Since leaving Disney, every job opportunity I have applied for has been most interested in hearing about my time with Disney. It’s the first thing they ask about in interviews, because it’s arguably one of the most important jobs I’ll ever have. Out of thousands of applicants, I was chosen to represent a Fortune 500 company that prides themselves on employee excellence, and that says a lot to potential employers.
I was fortunate enough to have two different roles during my program. I started in Full-Service Food and Beverage at Olivia’s Café, in Disney’s Old Key West Resort. I ended up in Attractions at “Lights, Motors, Action: Extreme Stunt Show” (Rest in peace, L.M.A.) in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I also got the chance to pick up shifts in various locations across property. Being able to work in so many different locations taught me to be flexible and adapt to new work environments.
I’ve had several customer service jobs throughout high school and college, but none of those quite compare to Disney’s customer service model. Nothing has prepared me for the “real world” quite like Disney did. Disney instills in their cast members a standard of excellence that is far beyond what is expected by most employers, and that’s why the company is so highly praised and respected.
Happiness is a State of Mind.
Often times, when I tell people that I worked for Disney, their first response is “Wow, I could never do that! I couldn’t be that happy all the time.” But, you can! Walt Disney said that “happiness is a state of mind,” and he was exactly right. Happiness isn’t just a fleeting emotion; it’s a choice. You choose your own happiness.
Yes, Florida is miserably hot in the middle of July. Yes, there are millions of people asking questions in various languages, all at once. Yes, I could go on and on about all the little things that could come your way in a day of work at Disney. But, at the end of the day, none of that could take away a single ounce of joy that I received from being in the “happiest place on Earth.” Even on my toughest days at work, I went home with a smile on my face because I knew that I had contributed to the happiness of at least one guest. And that was enough for me.
I’ve learned that no matter your situation or circumstance, you can find happiness somewhere in it. Find what makes you happy, and use that to fuel you. Find something you’re passionate about, focus on that, and work at it to bring yourself joy. You have power over your own happiness. Use it.
Different is Good.
While Auburn University is a beautifully diverse campus with students from all over the world, the people I typically surrounded myself with looked and thought a lot like me. I grew up in a fairly small town in Alabama, where pretty much everyone has the same beliefs, values, and worldviews. For so long, I had been a product of my environment and never really took the time to form my own opinions about the world around me. However, getting out and being in one of the most culturally diverse locations in the country put so many things into a new perspective for me.
To quote my girl, Pocahontas, “If you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew, you never knew.” I was lucky enough to work with people from all over the world, and was exposed to so many different cultures every day. For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to live outside suburbia. The world is such a beautiful place, full of incredible people who are all so very different and equally special and important.
It’s Okay to Do Your Own Thing.
I’ve never been one to really enjoy doing things by myself. I’m the kind of person who would rather eat in my car than sit alone at a restaurant. But, Disney changed that. I wanted to take advantage of my access to the parks and dared to visit the parks alone on an off day.
The very idea of this would make the old me shudder, but that first solo Disney experience changed me for the better. Soon it became one of my favorite things to do. It was actually therapeutic to allow myself to be fully immersed in the Disney experience, doing what I wanted to do, and doing it at my own pace. I know it sounds crazy to visit Disney World alone. I certainly got some strange looks as I stood alone in line to meet Rapunzel and Cinderella. But trust me, it’s surprisingly fun.
My solo park trips taught me that it’s okay to do your own thing. I learned that it’s okay to kind of unplug and take time to yourself to do the things you like. Sure, I still love being surrounded by people. But, I learned that allowing yourself a moment to take a step back and enjoy “you” can be so rewarding and wonderful.
It has been brought to my attention that a lot of people do not buy in to the idea of Disney magic, and that’s not okay. Apparently, there are cynics out there who think you can outgrow Disney and that it’s no longer cool after a certain age. Well, that is a lie, Pinocchio.
There are no words to describe the feeling when you first enter the Magic Kingdom and see Cinderella’s castle waiting for you at the end of Main Street U.S.A. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how many times you’ve been to Disney World, there is nothing like that glorious monument of magic.
Disney magic is absolutely, positively real. No, I don’t mean the “bibbity bobbity boo” kind. I mean the kind you can hear in the carefully chosen background music around every corner. The kind you can see in the eyes of a child who is meeting their favorite character for the first time. The kind you can smell pouring out of the Confectionery on Main Street U.S.A. The kind you can see in the ultimate Disney fan Disney Bounding as their favorite character. The kind you can hear in every child around you screaming the lyrics to “Let It Go” during Celebrate the Magic. You’ll never be able to convince me that magic doesn’t exist, because I’ve felt it, and it is like nothing I’ve ever felt before.
Working for Disney was honestly the greatest experience of my life. My time with Disney taught me so much about the business world, other people, and myself. I gained lifelong friends from all over the world. I gained a better work ethic, and a passion for excellence in the workplace. I gained a new self-confidence, which is something that I always struggled with before. Disney changed me, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
I am not the same person today that I was when I started the program, and that is one of the greatest things that Disney could have given me. In all honesty, I could probably go on forever about every single experience I had and every wonderful person I ever came in contact with. The six months that I spent in Orlando seemed like a lifetime and also like just a few moments. While I may have been away from the classroom setting, I learned and grew so much during my time there, and that is what I am most thankful for.
I want to encourage everyone to seek out an opportunity to have an experience like this. Maybe you should apply for the Disney College Program. Maybe you should study abroad. I don’t know. Whatever it is that you do, find something that makes you happy and GO DO IT. Step outside your comfort zone and go live your dream! I am here to tell you that dreams really do come true.
Be well, Auburn.
Photography: Julia B.