When I accepted my position in the Disney College Program, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was worried I wouldn’t gain anything from the experience, because I was going to be working on a roller coaster, even though I’m an animal science major. I didn’t think I was going to stay for my entire program, but I was excited to try it out. I quickly found out the program was going to teach me some of my most important life lessons.
1. Time Management
My schedule was so variable during my college program. I never knew exactly when I would be working, when my next day off would be, or how many hours I would have that week. Some weeks I would get scheduled for 70 hours and no days off, and some weeks I would get scheduled 30 hours and two days off. I had to get really good at time management, or the constant change of shift times/amount of hours would really have thrown me off. On top of that, some weeks I would have to take a classes, and some weeks we wouldn’t have class due to guest in park numbers being very high, and we had to be available at any time for any amount of hours for our location to schedule us. In order to run errands and keep my apartment in living order, I had to get really good at managing every minute of every day.
People from every background imaginable visit Disney World. Different cultures deal with different things in different ways, and sometimes the way they act may not be the same way I would expect someone to act. I learned quickly that just because it isn’t something I would expect doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it’s just different, and different doesn’t mean bad. Making sure I kept an open mind at work helped me learn a lot, too! I was able to learn about new cultures all the time. I also learned how to communicate through language barriers, and to me, that became the most important lesson I learned.
Sometimes things would happen at work that I had trouble finding a solution for. By following the guidelines given to us, I would give the guest a less than magical experience, but by not following the guidelines, I would risk possibly getting in trouble with my management. The gray area of what we were allowed to do and what could get us into a sticky situation got very tricky, but 9/10 times, we could do what we needed to do to give the guest a magical experience. In order to do this, I had to learn to compromise. I had to learn that guidelines are simply that - guidelines, not laws. Compromise was allowed more often than not in this job, and I had to learn that it's okay to not always follow to guidelines to a T, and often it was better to compromise for the guests than to follow the guidelines strictly. From someone who used to always follow the rules, it was hard for me to get comfortable with the compromise part of my job, but I began to love being able to do small things to make a family's day just a little bit better.
While working for Disney, you have to follow this thing called "The Disney Look." Now, these were guidelines that had to be followed, not compromised on. We had our costume to wear at work everyday, and we also had other guidelines to follow, such as tattoos had to be covered, make up had to look natural, hair had to be all one shade and a natural color, etc. Presentation is very important to this company. Going to my classes, I had to dress in business casual attire. Because of "Disney Look," I began to care about my presentation more, even if I was going to the parks as a guest for the day. If I was bringing people with me, I cared about the way they presented themselves when at the parks, and I cared about how I was representing the company completely outside of work, as many places around town gave cast member discounts. In order to admit I was a cast member and to get the discount, I cared about how I was acting in any establishment, and I cared about how I was representing my company and my management.
Things can sometimes change on the drop of a dime, and being flexible to react appropriately is an important trait to have. I was not a very flexible person before my college program. I liked to plan things, and when my plans changed, I would often times get very stressed, and I would have a hard time responding to the change. However, working with the Walt Disney World company helped me learn flexibility, especially in terms of my work shifts. Sometimes shifts would change without notice, and you had to be good about checking your schedule and being able to change your outside of work plans if need be. This happened the most in cold weather season, because at Everest, we could possibly have trouble running if the track was too cold. We would have to come in an hour earlier than we were scheduled in order to weigh down the trains to run them on the track. This couldn't be scheduled in advance necessarily, because we were never sure when it would be too cold to run as normal. Flexibility became very important during this time, because it was crucial that the people who were scheduled to open were able to make it an hour earlier than scheduled in order to make sure we could open on time and run the ride as normal as possible.
Moving 1200 miles away from home is scary. I was so scared when it came time to move to Orlando, and I had no idea what my college program would bring. Looking back now, even while still finishing my last few months, I am so glad I took the opportunity to make the move. I have learned so many amazing lessons while working and living here, and I am so impressed with the person I’ve grown into.