Some people grow up and decide that Disney is only for children. Others have annual season passes and visit the parks anytime they get the chance. Me, I buy all the Disney paraphernalia I can get from Hot Topic and Penneys/Primark, enroll in a class about Walt Disney, visit his childhood home in Marceline, receive the title from my campus Editor-in-Chief as "the one who knows all the Disney references that have been made, ever" and get a job in the parks.
I first heard of the Disney College Program during my sophomore year of college, when my mom found out about it and tried to convince me to apply. It wasn't until three years later that I would, mostly to satiate my mother's request that I get an internship. Although I made it to the web-based interview, I was rejected before the next step. My answers were good, but not Disney-good.
The following year, I decided to try again. I excelled in the web-based interview and had a very nerve-wracking phone interview, then several weeks of anxious waiting.
This time, I was accepted.
I moved to Orlando in August of 2014, which would become my home for the next five months. I arrived to move-in-day in a professional dress and blazer, saw most people wearing jeans and T-shirts, and promptly went back to my mother's hotel room to change after receiving my housing information.
The following week was Traditions, a six-hour training day that teaches you everything you ever needed to know about the Disney stance on Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency, gifts you with your very own Ears and then gives you a backstage look at the most magical place in the world. (Not the happiest - that's Disneyland.)
I began my first day of work at a shop in Disney's Coronado Springs Resort on my 23rd birthday. We donned sombreros for a traditional Mexican hat dance, learned about the theme of the resort, and after work, I went to Magic Kingdom with my roommates to celebrate.
Following three more days of training and learning the in's and out's of retail, which I had never done before, I had officially "earned my ears." And that's when the adulting began.
The bosses forewarned the job wouldn't be as glamorous as our family and friends would think and they were right. Working at Disney World wasn't easy. I was in the shop every weekend. I did a lot of stockroom work, affectionally named "Heart of House," and was constantly sore, with an endless amount of bruises. Some days, I'd work until midnight, get off the bus by 1, grab a quick dinner, set my alarm and sleep until 5 - though most days I could only stay asleep until 4 - get ready and catch the 6:18 bus for my 7:15 or 7:30 shift. My only days off were for class. I was in a constant state of fatigue, and swore to myself I would never work in retail again.
But all those long days of opening boxes, stocking deliveries, hanging up clothes or dealing with guests were worth it. I learned a lot of things about myself, as well as all the skills I would need after exiting college and entering the real adult world.
Of course, there were the free visits to all four Disney World parks and water parks whenever I got the chance and the discount that sent most of my paycheck right back to the company. (And the trips to Hogwarts when I really got a day off.)
I amazed myself when I decided to major in Communications, as I had always been rather quiet and introverted. But that changed in Florida. Disney opened up something inside me I didn't know existed. My first night in the program, I was already in rapt conversation with a guest I had never met before while waiting for the Electric Parade.
I enrolled in two Disney University classes, Corporate Communications and Disney Heritage - the latter where I learned everything you could possibly know about the company and got to attend the parks for assignments. I made so many friends from so many corners of the world, with a standing invitation to visit Japan, another friend in China and a good majority of my DCP friends and Disney co-workers still keeping in touch via Facebook likes and comments. Last month, I even had the pleasure of attending the wedding of one of my closest Disney friends.
I learned how to wait, through hours of standing in the queue for my chance to be a little girl again and meet a princess. I learned time management, an area I'd always been lacking in. I learned confidence. I learned "thank you" in Portuguese and "hi" in Swedish and Chinese. I dealt with a difficult roommate. I opened up to people. I lived without any parents around for the first time. I decided I wanted to move abroad and that I would find a way to make it happen. I acquired a marketable skill in retail, which I would have to use when the first job I was offered in Ireland was working in a shop. (This time, I'm definitely not doing it again.)
And on my last day of work, one of my managers told me he wished they had more workers like me. Me, who had never held a retail job before in her life and had scored cushy office jobs her entire college career. Another manager told me I was great with kids, much to my bewilderment.
My time at Disney was an invaluable experience and one that I will cherish forever - even the negative aspects.
And yes, it does look great on a résumé.