Studying abroad is a fantastic way to immerse oneself in another culture, learn another language, and meet people from around the world. However, traveling to another country for a semester is not the only way to do this.
Each year, thousands of students from around the globe participate in the Disney College and International Programs at Walt Disney World in Florida. For four months to a year, participants live, work and learn at the happiest place on Earth. Not only can students bond with other participants and park guests from dozens of nationalities, but the program also offers excellent work experience with a Fortune 500 company.
Disney started the college program in 1981 as a way to attract young, educated people to work across the Orlando site’s four theme parks, two water parks, nearly 20 resorts, athletic complex and shopping and dining district. Today, more students than ever are still flocking to the center of the sunshine state to work for the mouse and take advantage of the benefits afforded to employees, such as free theme park admission.
Gabrielle Zane, a University of Florida student who spent the spring semester of her junior year with the Disney college program made many international friends during her time with the company.
“I absolutely loved meeting International College Program students,” said Zane. “Not only did I get to meet people from around the world and learn about their cultures, I became really good friends with them! I celebrated Canada Day at Epcot with my Canadian friends while we were dressed head to toe in red and white. My Australian exposed me to Vegemite. I loved trying food from different cultures, too.”
The Disney College Program is a culturally rewarding experience for American students, however international students also benefit from what the program has to offer as well.
Because Disney is a well known company around the globe, the Walt Disney World Resort is particularly eager to hire international students to diversify employment and provide international guests with the ability to speak with employees who speak their language. While Disney Parks outside of the United States include locations in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and soon Shanghai, Walt Disney World in Florida has by far the highest amount of visitors.
International participants may be placed at any location across Walt Disney World, although it is very common they are placed in their country of origin at Epcot’s World Showcase. Ten foreign countries are represented in the Showcase which offers visitors the chance to experience different cultures, foods, languages, and merchandise from around the world. Each pavilion is an immersive experience for each country, and although it is no replacement for actually visiting a foreign nation, it is a fun way to sample several in a day and get a taste of each.
Angie Rubio León, a student from Mexico, participated in the program in spring 2012 as a merchandise hostess in Epcot. León decided to work for Disney because of her love and respect for the company and for the opportunity to experience American culture.
“I have some great memories with guests,” said León. “I remember the most a family from India, the father came to buy a book of autographs… [and] I told him to buy the one of Tinkerbell.”
León spoke with the man for a while and the later in the day the family returned.
“[He] told them that I helped him choose that book, they were so kind with me and I even took a photo with them! Sometimes you don’t always make magical moments, sometimes the guest do them. It was a magical moment for me because I not only helped the man (which was my job), but I know that I made his journey more special. It’s something i can’t forget because it felt nice, and its something i still remember after two years of for working for Disney.”
The Disney College Program doesn’t quite compare to spending a semester in a foreign country, however it is an alternative opportunity that still provides the ability to meet people from around the world, spend time away from school, and even make some money and gain work experience. Check it out here!