How can I not write a post about my time on the Disney College Program? It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! In this post I will talk about the program, how I got there, and what the experience was like.
When I started university, I remember seeing a flyer on the wall in one of the lecture halls that was advertising for working internships at Walt Disney World! Being a shy first year student I thought to myself “NO WAY”! The thought of university was terrifying enough let alone moving across the world to work for Disney, one of the largest companies in the world. Also I hated that lecture so I never returned to that lecture hall again for the rest of the semester and didn’t think too much about it after that. At the end of my second year of studies, I remember seeing the flyer again. This time I actually read it and did some research and was quite intrigued. Getting paid to work and live at Disney World didn’t seem like a bad idea to me at the current time. I was going through some personal struggles at the time and thought to myself that this program could be an escape from real life for 6 months. I wrote out all the positives and negatives of moving to Orlando for 6 months. It was no surprise that the pros outweighed the cons. While I would have to leave my friends, family, routine and lifestyle behind, I would get to have the experience of a lifetime. And that is exactly what it was! Before I knew it, I had attended the information session and the interview for the program which had to be one of the most relaxed and simple job interviews I’ve ever had. A couple of weeks later I was accepted into the program! I remember having the biggest smile on my face after opening that acceptance email!
After receiving the email, the next steps were to organise your J-1 VISA for the program which would allow me to legally live and work in the United States. This process was quite time-consuming as there were a lot of forms to fill out and a lot of fees to pay. I was starting to get turned off the program by it all to be honest. But a few weeks later I finally had it all sorted and was booked in for my VISA appointment. The closest US Consulate to me was in Sydney, so it was off to Sydney for a couple of days! When I was in Sydney I was lucky enough to meet some of the people who I would be going to Disney with as they were also having their VISA interviews. Little did I know some of these individuals would become my best friends. After the interview in Sydney the time flew by, Christmas came, New Years came, and then on the 8th of January it was time to leave! I was lucky enough to travel over with my soon to be roommate (we had connected through a Facebook group with all the participants for our intake). We met up at the airport the morning of our departure and said goodbye to our family and friends. It was a hard goodbye for me because I am very close with my family, especially my twin sister! After a few tears were shed, we were on our way!
After a LONG trip to Orlando, it was finally time to start the program! We checked into our living complex which was called ‘Chatham Square’ and moved into our tiny apartment and it was all starting to become a little more real. They let us settle in for the first couple days, but after that, it was a week of non stop training. The training at Walt Disney World felt like the longest week of my life. First you have ‘Traditions’ which is a class you take with Disney University that teaches you the history of Walt Disney and his philosophy as well as learning all about the company! This class was fun because we received our Mickey ears and name tags from our boss, Mickey Mouse! We even got a tour of Magic Kingdom, which is must admit, was one of my favourite days of the entire program. There is no feeling quite like walking through Main Street USA for the first time as a Cast Member! The remainder of the week consisted of training at my work location. I was assigned to World Showcase Attractions at Epcot! The training was long and very demanding, and by demanding I mean waking up at 5am to catch the bus to work in the freezing cold! It was definitely something I had to adjust to. What was to come was truly incredible.I loved working at my attraction ‘Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure’ and I got to work with some of the most incredible people! I worked with people from Mexico, California, Guatemala, Rhode Island, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and many other states and countries! We became a family and that’s something I will cherish forever!
I also had AMAZING friends outside of work! We spent many nights eating unlimited pizza at the local Cici’s, having puzzle nights, sleepovers, road trips, going to the parks countless times and even skipping work to go shopping at the mall. They were my support system being so far away from home, but I had to remember that they were in the exact same situation as me being away from home, so I had to be their support system as well! We all found strength in each other during difficult times and we always reminded each other why we came here and what an incredible experience this was! Believe it or not there were some struggles on this ‘magical experience’. While money didn’t matter to me at all, it sometimes got in the way of things, well the lack of money did. It would sometimes hinder me from getting enough groceries to last the week! Lets just say I was shopping for all the bargains at the local grocery store! As long as I got my Oreos I was fine. Disney’s minimum wage at the time was $9.50 US an hour and I was only working 30 hour weeks so once rent was deducted ($116 US per week), I was living on about $100 a week. Food is very important to me so that was hard! There were good days and bad days, some days I would cry because I missed home or about silly things like the guy I liked not texting me back or being excluded from plans with some friends. There were weeks where I was as sick as a dog and all that I wanted was my mum to comfort me. It seemed that any little bump in the road would make me cry. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a drama queen so maybe that was just the drama queen thing to do, to cry when things didn’t go right. Lets just also say living with 5 other boys got a bit much at times! Enough of that though, lets talk about the good stuff!
Working at Walt Disney World had its benefits! We had discounts across the whole property including food and beverage and merchandise. But the best perk was getting free entry to ALL the parks WHENEVER I wanted! How cool is that? How many people can say they have had that privilege in their lifetime? Well … everyone who’s done the program can! On my days off I would find myself playing in the parks with friends and even some days by myself just soaking it all in! Not only were the parks a fun place to go, so were the many resorts that existed within the Walt Disney World Resort property. There were also two water parks and Disney Springs, a large shopping and restaurant precinct filled with food and shopping to your hearts desire.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times more, the friendships I made on the program were quite easily the most amazing part. Having to say goodbye to them at the end was the worst. However, a little mouse once said “It’s never goodbye, it’s see ya real soon” and that’s exactly right! I have had the pleasure of continuing the majority of my friendships from the program here at home. I was lucky enough to have met and grown close with people who live within Australia and New Zealand so they are never too far away! As for the friends I met that live in far away lands, I most definitely will be paying them a visit some day. I have a couch to sleep on in so many different places all around the world, how cool is that?
I’ll wrap this blog post up with a few things I picked up on while on the program,
I realised that no matter how stressful my job got, it really was the people around me that made it worthwhile.
I learnt Spanish and a couple other languages.
I quickly got over the fact that I used to think guys with accents were hot.
I found out that I am much more brave and fearless than I thought I was. I look back at the old me and notice how many things i’ve done here on my own and how proud I am of those things. The old me who used to be someone so sheltered and afraid of many things is now someone who is strong, has big dreams, goals, and knows what they want out of life.
Making friends who are from all over the world made me realise that no matter how different our cultures and backgrounds are, we really are all equal and very much alike on the inside.
The people from all over the world that I meet will made me grow up so much. They expanded my mind and horizons and made me want to travel to different places without any sense of fear whether that be here in Australia or overseas.
The nights where i’d work until 1am are the nights where i’d bond with your fellow cast members the most and those closing shifts almost always ended with a trip to Steak ‘N’ Shake with my coworkers.
The first week was just as emotional as the last week.
Watching the fireworks show at Magic Kingdom will ALWAYS give me chills! And when I watched it on the last night of my program with my friends, it gave me many tears!
to anyone that is thinking of applying, DO IT! This is a once in a lifetime experience and it’s one of the best adventures you will ever embark on. Live in the moment, be prepared to lose sleep, and step out of your comfort zone! If you have any questions about the program please get in contact with me and I will happily answer any questions!