Thomas was in his final year of Bachelor of Business (majoring in Event Management & HR) when he received a targeted email from his head of faculty about the Disney Cultural Exchange Program. While some would dream about working for Disney, sharing a work place with Mickey Mouse and Cinderella, this was not Tom.
“The Disney program wasn’t something I was considering for myself post University. I received the promo email and remember initially dismissing it. I did have a friend who had participated in the program and remember seeing some of her photos thinking it looked interesting. I actually thought at the time the program would take place in LA and how cool it would be to spend a year in California, but later found out there was another Disney property located in Orlando, Florida which would eventually become home. It was really the enthusiasm of a friend of mine that got me to apply and in the information session”
Being faced with the daunting reality that upon graduation he would be competing with hundreds of other University graduates for work within the Hospitality/Tourism/Events industry and still not really even being completely sure of what kind of work he wished to pursue, this left Tom feeling a little anxious.
“I realized sitting in one of my final week 13 lectures and looking around at the 300 something students and thinking “why haven’t I seen these people for the last 12 weeks?” – a joke – I actually thought “all of these people want the same kind of jobs as me”, it’s intimidating. The Disney program had plenty of positives (international travel, living in America, working for Disney, gaining valuable work experience and definitely adding a huge edge to my resume etc.). There really weren’t many cons at all, and I thought, what am I going to miss out on by going for it?”
The decision was settled and Thomas attended the Information Session at Griffith, where Disney recruiters share general information about the program, the applicant requirements, and some tips on how to be successful. At Tom’s session, the recruiters were also offering those who were interested the opportunity to have their interview on the day. Thomas points out that Disney recruiters are very vigilant and are observing the students the moment they walk in the door through to the interviews. He states:-
“My recruiter shared with me during the information sessions she examines potential applicants’ expressions, body language and engagement from the moment they walk through the door. You need to be present and keep your mind in the moment for the entire time you are there. Remember, the reason you are there is because you WANT to work at Disney World, it really is an incredible opportunity!”
Tom emphasized that it’s really important to clearly demonstrate you have a positive attitude while you are in the presence of the recruiters and convince them you are able to handle any challenge that comes your way. The recruiters need to know you understand and appreciate what’s on offer and you really want the opportunity. Thomas also mentioned that being nervous or even slightly apprehensive won’t deter the recruiters from considering you as a candidate..
“You don’t have to be the most confident, outgoing or vocal person in the room to get the role. The recruiters understand it can be a nerve wracking experience and everything being discussed is new and not something you would be expected to , so don’t think you’ll be at a disadvantage based on that reason”.
After attending the information session and having an interview on the day, he was offered a place and in less than a year he was on his way to Orlando.
Many students may feel slightly apprehensive about what comes next after being accepted to go and work in the USA, including sorting out the VISA process, finding and funding accommodation, booking flights, etc. Thomas states that he found the process of getting everything organised very simple, as Disney offers so much support and makes things easy. He says:-
“You are responsible for all costs associated with getting yourself to the US and over to Orlando, flights are not included nor is accommodation should you wish to arrive prior to your commencement date. Disney simplifies the rest of the process. Disney will provide you with a comprehensive Welcome Pack which includes steps on how/where/when to apply for your VISA, booking VISA interviews, navigating the airports and Orlando (useful if you’ve never visited before!) and comprehensive literature on adjusting to your new lifestyle and roles – all very handy reading before heading off. Once you have started you will be assigned accommodation in 1 of 4 properties close to Disney property and you will share an apartment with other participants from all over the world”.
It’s challenging enough moving out from the comforts of home on your own, let alone moving to the other side of the world. Thomas shares that it took him a while to adjust. He even had periods of time during his first few weeks where he thought maybe it wasn’t the right decision. He warns:-
“The first week was definitely a shock, it’s a huge adjustment process. Living with new people from different backgrounds and different habits can be hard to get used to at first, so you need to be resilient and stick it out. It’s also extremely frustrating when you are in a new place and don’t know where ANYTHING is (post office, local shop, barber etc.).”
Thomas emphasizes that Disney offers a lot of support with these sorts of issues, as there are participant assistance centres located conveniently on some of the housing complexes with a team of people ready to assist participants in the program.
“You never have to worry about feeling lost or not having anything to do, as the staff in the accommodation centres are available to offer you advice and point you in the right direction. You will also find that many people in Florida have relocated to Orlando purely to get a job at Disney, so everyone is in the same boat and are friendly and helpful”.
Thomas was placed at the Magic Kingdom working in Park operations. Thomas’ responsibilities included the smooth running of 3 high traffic attractions as well as other duties throughout the park. It was here he says he learned most of his transferable skills, skills he says will forever be useful. Thomas says:-
“The role was extremely fast paced and could be really stressful on some days. While some days don’t feel as magical as others, they are always rewarding. You will definitely encounter high pressure situations and will be tested. I worked out though it’s really not so much about the role you perform whilst on the program, but more about the people you get to work alongside on a daily basis. Not to be corny, but a hard day really can be made infinitely better because of the people who are there to help you through it”.
Thomas expresses the program opened many doors for him, including the opportunity to pioneer the Disney Management Internship for Australian and New Zealand participants(a program that didn’t even exist when he applied for the Cultural Exchange) as well as the opportunity to see the world with Disney Cruise Line.
“The Disney Cultural Exchange program is a perfect environment for you to develop so many transferrable skills you can take with you to other careers, including communication, networking abilities and an exceptional work ethic. On my internship I learned what it meant to lead vs manage. I had the great privilege to work with people from all different demographics and age groups. I worked for some of the most inspiring leaders and meet some true Disney legends. Having Disney on your resume will open doors for you, some you could never have imagined.”
Thomas has some advice for all students who think the Disney Cultural Exchange program may be for them, he advises –
“Take a moment to evaluate what you’ve got going on, would you find yourself in a disadvantaged position by participating in the program or would you have the time of your life, live somewhere exciting, meet people who will become lifelong friends and gain some incredibly valuable work and life experience?. You take away from the Disney experience as much as you are prepared put into it, so if you are planning on applying for it, give it 100%!”
He would also like to add –
“The perks make it absolutely worth it, having unlimited access to 4 of the world’s most exciting and renowned theme parks, 2 water parks, an incredible shopping and entertainment district, access to highly sought after educational materials…also, Chick Fil A”
Interested in registering for the Disney Cultural Exchange Program?
Attend the interview and information session at either UQ or QUT in the following links: