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6 Things I Learned from the Disney College Program

25 Apr
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Posing in front of the Disney Interships banner at the farewell event.

As the semester is winding down and summer approaches, I can’t help thinking about where I was this time last year. Instead of finishing projects and studying for finals, I was trying to wrap my mind around the fact that my time in the Disney College Program was drawing to a close.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Disney has an internship program for college students that allows them to come for a semester and work on Disney property. The jobs aren’t glamorous – I worked in the Magic Kingdom serving up Dole Whip, selling turkey legs and (my favorite) making funnel cakes – but it was definitely an experience that has shaped me and changed my perspective. A lot.

I have heard plenty of people talk about the program and say that it’s a waste of time, that it’s not a “real” internship and that taking a semester off to go play at Disney is pointless. However, just because I didn’t actually work in my field, doesn’t mean that my College Program was just about playing. I learned so many real-world things that college just did not prepare me for.

1)      Being a full-time student is nothing like working a full-time job.

During school, a full load of classes is 12-15 (sometimes 18) hours per week.  This amounts to about three hours per day. Technically, I’ve been told that for every hour I spend in class, I’m supposed to spend three more studying, but I don’t know a single person that does that. Then I got to Disney and I was working anywhere from 35 to upwards of 60 hours per week and often working six days per week. Talk about an adjustment. Especially once commute time was added in, I felt like I was working all the time. Going from having huge amounts of downtime to working seemingly non-stop took a lot of adjusting on my part.

2)      No matter what is going on in your personal life, it all goes away when you’re on the clock.

Obviously, this should be something any job teaches you, but I think working at Disney especially reinforces it. Being a cast member meant I was putting on a show for the guests. I was more than just the person getting them ice cream; I was part of their Disney experience. They may not remember me specifically, but I bet they would have if I had been rude or distracted. The happy and helpful cast members are part of what sets Disney apart, and it takes every person to make people’s dreams come true.

3)      Just changing what you call something can totally change your perspective.

Disney does not have employees; they have cast members. There are no uniforms, only costumes. No one is a customer; everyone is our guest. These are just a few of the phrases that Disney uses. They may seem like insignificant changes, but they make a world of difference. Just changing the phrasing changes the connotation. To me, using the Disney lingo helped me to be in the right frame of mind. Everything at Disney is about putting on a show and trying to give guests the best experience possible. Calling the people I served guests instead of customers helped me to remember that each one was equally important and deserved equal friendliness and hospitality. Being a cast member in a costume added to the fact that I was putting on a show.

4)      Someone who you think you have nothing in common with can end up being one of your best friends.

The College Program, and Disney in general, has all types of cast members. I will admit that I thought most of the other CPs would be people like me: obsessed with Disney movies, kind of nerdy and more of the quiet type. It was Disney; shouldn’t that have been the type to work there? In reality, every kind of person applies. I became friends with plenty of people that I would never have been friends with if we hadn’t been thrown together to work. In college, even though every kind of person is out there, people tend to gravitate to others like themselves. When working as a CP, there are people from all over the country, with all kinds of backgrounds and all kinds of interests. It’s a big melting pot and definitely expanded my horizons beyond the tiny, little bubble I had been living in.

5)      It’s important to pay your dues now if you want more in the future.

I would love to work for Disney again in the future. I think that being in the College Program will have been a great stepping stone toward that goal when I’m ready to try to get a permanent job there. I met plenty of people that started out as CPs and now have real jobs in their fields. When I apply in the future, having previous experience with the company and a clean record card can only be to my advantage.

6)      Make the most of your time.

This may have been the most important lesson I learned, and I learned it the hard way. During bust season, when I was working six days per week, all I wanted to do on my days off was rest. Looking back I wish I had taken advantage of the free time and done more. I thought four months seemed like a lifetime and that I would have plenty of time to act like a tourist. In reality, time flew and I regret not taking advantage of every opportunity I had. Disney offers so much, and I only did a small fraction of the things I would have liked to.

So maybe I didn’t get professional work experience in a specific field, but I think what I got proved just as, if not more, valuable that just working a generic internship. I got a new outlook that I will carry with me wherever my future takes me, be it Disney or somewhere else. Whether I end up in accounting or public relations or doing something completely different, the lessons I learned from my Disney College Program are ones that I will take with me as I continue to grow and change and figure out just where my life is headed.

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