The Disney College Program: A different kind of study abroad

Part I

Everyone has heard of The Walt Disney Company in some capacity; it owns ESPN, ABC, Pixar, and Star Wars. Disney owns the Star Wars franchise, which now includes the highest grossing film of all time. Not only did the most recent film surpass expectations, the company announced its plans to add on a Star Wars Land onto two of its six theme parks. (Shanghai is opening this year, so I’m including it in the count.) It is safe to say you have heard of it.

Disney is one of the most expansive and diverse companies in the world. Now imagine having that company on your resume.

With opportunities ranging from custodial to concierge, there are so many roles to choose from, each having their distinct pros and cons.

Just in my tiny apartment of four girls, our roles include Attractions, Hospitality, Merchandise and Food and Beverage, and our homes expand across the US – Massachusetts/New York, South Carolina, Ohio and Indiana. We have two bedrooms and a large living room. In our kitchen cabinet, we have a pest control schedule from 1993… I wouldn’t say I live in the Taj Mahal, but compared to most of Charleston housing, it is incredibly affordable and much more spacious than anything you may find downtown. Picture a large McAlister apartment with a layout that actually makes sense, and you’ve got Vista Way Apartments: my apartment for five months

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(Photo by Lauren Findlay)

I was lucky enough to work in attractions, in the most visited park on a very popular ride: Splash Mountain in the Magic Kingdom. Although working in a western-themed area named Frontierland did not initially make me jump for joy, I now call the mountain home. My co-workers have been wonderful and the leadership team comprises of the best bosses I will ever have. Working until the wee hours of the morning with the same people four to seven days a week creates a very strong bond based on caffeine and exhaustion. Some weeks are better than others in terms of hours. College Program Participants (CPs) are not quite the bottom of the totem poll in terms of the amount of hours, but we are at the bottom in terms of time of shifts. The scheduling manager is contractually obligated to give us at least 30 hours a week, but those hours may be any time from 6:00 a.m. – 3:00 a.m. I have worked a few 12+ hour shifts until the middle of the night.

And those shifts can also be very challenging. Guests really can’t seem to grasp the concept that Splash Mountain is a water ride that will get them wet, despite the “You May Get Wet” signs located around the queue area, and the ride’s name: Splash Mountain. Other times, parents get angry because their child isn’t 40 inches tall and we can’t let them ride for safety reasons, or guests can’t seem to keep their hands in the log after repeated warnings from the seemingly non-diegetic voice of a cast member watching the ride from behind screens. Those days can be difficult, but the days that are truly terrible are far and few between.

Most days are filled with guest interaction that will put a smile on your face for days. If you have stepped foot in the Magic Kingdom, you quickly realize every guest is royalty. There are queens, kings, little princesses and princes – and to recognize royalty can be the ultimate magical touch. One day I worked the stand-by line which consisted of checking heights and answering questions, and a little princess wore one of those shirts with her name and “Disney Vacation 2016,” with a giant Mickey or castle on the front. I simply told Princess Jane to have a magical day and a wonderful ride. She shyly smiled and waved while clutching to her mom – like her mom could shield her from all the world’s woes. As she walked away, she looked at her mom with these big eyes and whispers, “Mommy, she knows I’m a princess.” It was a simple thing that made their vacation that much more special and seeing those moments makes you understand why Disney exists and why you are there. You are able to make a guest feel special and wanted. Cast Members are able to create happiness for the guests. Who else gets to say they create happiness for a living?

earning my ears

Earning my ears. (Photo by Lauren Findlay)

Being a part of the College Program, especially working in Magic Kingdom, I am able to create the magic that I have experienced so many times. I am a part of the company that created my childhood.

Having my checks signed by Mickey Mouse was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

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