P. S. This post was written at Orlando airport when I was heading back home, to Mumbai, India, after having spent 13 months at Walt Disney World, Florida. I started crying before I got to the airport and cried almost all the way home. This has probably shown in the piece in the form of typos and grammatical errors.
Walt Disney World (WDW) hires a few thousand American and international students/young graduates to work at their theme parks and resorts for either one year or a semester, so as to add to the diversity on property as well as to provide these youngsters the opportunity of a lifetime. I was selected to do one such program, the Cultural Representative Program (CRP), at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK) theme park. My job included talking to people about my country, sharing my culture and telling stories from my life to the thousands of guests that came to the park. When the opportunity came to me, I was looking for a gap year. I needed a year off to travel and step outside my comfort zone. I took it up and now, here I am, a whole new person!
When I interviewed with Disney’s recruitment team, they promised me and all the other applicants that this year will be the stepping stone in our careers that we are looking for. Working for one of the biggest companies in the world would add value to our CV like nothing else. And it sure did! But there’s a lot that they didn’t tell us. I’m only listing some of those things below.
Things they don’t tell you about your Disney Program:
They don’t tell you that this program will teach you more about the world, cultures and people that any textbook ever will! When I was being interviewed, I was asked what was the one thing I was looking to take back from this program. I said friends from across the world so that I could go visit them and travel the world in that process. I got all that and more! I found family; family in pockets of Europe, Africa, Australia, the Americas and Asia. You will meet and even share room with strangers who will go on to becoming the most important people in your life. Over the year, I shared room with girls from South Africa, Canada, Peru, USA and China. This taught me that no matter where we are from, we have more in common with people from other cultures that we think. They don’t tell you you that over the time you spend on the program, you will become lesser judgmental and more accepting of different ways of life. In the process, you’ll also pick up phrases (mainly cuss words) in multiple languages. My list includes Thai, Bahasa Indonesia, Korean, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, German and Portuguese. Living in that kind of cultural diversity and speaking to people about your country all day long will also make you immensely proud of it. I probably learned way more about my country in the one year that I was at Disney than I did in the 22 years that I lived in there. I’ve never been prouder of India than I was while speaking to guests about her and celebrating Indian festivals at Disney.
They don’t tell you that your patience levels will increase many fold. People on vacation are the most difficult people to deal with. Anyone who has ever dealt with a Brazilian tour group at any point will know exactly what I’m talking about. They don’t tell you that this program will teach you more about what not to do and how not to behave, thanks to all the people watching you’ll do, when in the parks. If your job doesn’t include talking to people, the College Program (CP) buses will teach you patience. Oh sweet Jungle bus! Sigh. The program is waaayyy more frustrating than you’ll ever think it to be. This is also why we have the best parties!
They don’t tell you that you’ll go nuts trying to figure out abbreviations. Disney looooovess abbreviations. The first month of my program was spend trying to figure out what MK, DAK, ICP, CRP, CP, DHS, ADO, RDO, FH, EPCOT, CM and all the many others stand for. As if these aren’t enough, there are radio codes! 101, 102, 103, 10-4, 10-9, Signal 70, Signal V and what not!
They don’t tell you that you will perpetually be poor. Thursday (payday) will be the most important day of your week. How you spend your week will depend on Thursday, unless you’re a server. In that case, you’re rich. Be prepared to be broke and in anticipation on the next Thursday throughout your program.
They don’t tell you that Disney will spoil you rotten. Who else gets to spend one whole year in the parks!! Through the course of my program, I met innumerable people who told me that they had saved up for years to vacation at Disney and here we would go to parks almost everyday post work, just to watch the fireworks or eat funnel cakes or ride the tower of terror just to take a specific kind of picture on the ride. They don’t tell you that Disney has a lot more than just the parks – The resorts, the golf courses, Downtown Disney!! And all these spaces have their own hidden gems. My personal favourite was Jellyrolls, a piano bar at Disney’s Boardwalk resort.
As much fun as it sounds, they don’t tell you that your job will drain the life out of you. If your job is anything like mine was, it will include standing for 8 hours outdoors, in that burning Florida sun. The job includes talking with people (most of whom lack people’s skills) all day long. It’s tiring. Florida summers will be your worst nightmare come true. And after a long day at work, you’re most likely to hop on to the party bus, have a mad night and then go to work on two hours of sleep. You’ll know exhaustion like never before.
They don’t tell you how much you’ll miss everything about the program once you’re done with it. As my cousin, who has been on the program before, puts it; Mickey will be that ex-boyfriend you can never stop thinking about. The whole idea of going back to reality from the happiest place on earth is the worst feeling ever! Goodbyes are the most heartbreaking. And there will be at least one such goodbye every month. You make friends from all over and when it’s time for either them or you to leave, it will crush your heart! These, till then, were the most important people in your life and you don’t know when you’ll see them next or ever see them at all. Sure, social media is great but it will never be the same.
They don’t tell you that this is going to be the best year of your life!
They don’t tell you to live up. You are probably never going to be a part of such an international crowd ever again. Somewhere between chugging four lokos, flipping cups and cheering for your Happy Monday team, you’ll realise that these nights are never going to come back. Value every guest you meet, every magical moment you create, every time a child hugs you and says that you were the best part of his/her Disney vacation. Do all the rides multiple times, go eating and drinking around the world as often as you can, check out every single 105 with your girls (attractions cast members will know what I’m talking about), stock up on every souvenir you lay your eyes on, stay in the resorts, go pin trading, explore Disney Dining; do it while it lasts. While you’re in the states, make friends and travel with them. Gamble in Vegas, party like there’s no tomorrow in Miami, get lost in the Grand Canyon, walk the crazy streets of 5th Ave NYC, go to Disneyland in California, eat great southern food in New Orleans, watch the Aurora Borealis in Alaska, take a cruise to the Bahamas; do it all! It’s all way more fun to do with someone who comes from halfway around the world as you and speaks a totally different language. Take loads of photographs! With the castle, with Mickey, with friends, other cast members, guests you want to remember, eating the Mickey ice cream bar. Create and collect memories, enough memories to hang on to for the rest of your life. You’re never going to live the Disney life again.