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Semester Away

One of the great things about going to a smaller school such as Capital is the ability to craft a collegiate experience unique to you. One of the ways you can do this is by taking a semester away to expand your experiences. Many people study abroad, do an internship, or even hike the Appalachian Trail, but I had my mind set on something else. Since high school, I had been eager to do the Disney College Program, and during the Spring of my sophomore year, I would finally get the chance! The program is a semester-long work experience at the Walt Disney World Resort.

At this point in my education, I was a bit undecided about what I wanted my future to look like after graduation. I was on track to be a high school English teacher, and while I enjoyed it, something didn’t feel quite right. To me, this seemed like the perfect moment to step away and figure things out.

Since applications drop a semester before the program, I applied in January of 2019. By the end of February, I found out I was accepted as a Quick Service Food and Beverage cast member. In order to finalize my plans, I had to speak with my advisor about taking a semester away and how that would fit in my four-year plan. I let financial aid, the registrar, and housing know that I would be taking a leave of absence, and before I knew it August had arrived.

My move-in date was August 5, so on the first day of the month my mom and I packed up my car for the 16-hour drive. The first few weeks of my program took quite a bit of adjusting. My job had turned out to be different than I had expected. I ended up working in the Back of House, or kitchen, in Pinocchio Village Haus in Magic Kingdom. This meant I got to wear a chef outfit straight out of Ratatouille, but upon wearing other costumes, I’ve decided that one was the most comfortable.

The first couple of days meant learning the ropes of Disney and attending classes at Disney University. We learned about the traditions and expectations of the company and got to go on a bit of a behind-the-scenes tour. After training as a large group, we split off into roles, and later locations. I had three days of training at my location, and then it was off to the races. Working in a kitchen sometimes felt like being thrown in the deep end without knowing how to swim, but I would later see how much confidence this job had given me.

My co-workers became like family. I had a work mom, grandma, and sister. They welcomed us into their homes and made the few short months we were there feel like we had been a part of the team forever. In between some of the sweaty days, I worked special events such as Halloween and Christmas parties. If that wasn’t enough, I spent as many waking free hours as I could at the parks. I went alone, with co-workers, or roommates. I took advantage of program participant activities, and cast member-only events.

By the time December had rolled around, I was considering staying to take on a new extended role with the company. Ultimately, my excitement to finish school won out. I decided to drive the trek back up to Capital, and completely change my major. The experience had allowed me to picture a future with the company, or another organization in the family entertainment industry. I declared my Emerging Media & Public Relations major, and have worked toward building a portfolio for a future Disney job since.

One small leap of faith, a step outside of your comfort zone, may change your whole trajectory. 

While it may sound intimidating, allowing yourself to grow outside of your education can unlock passions and questions you may not have known you had. If you’re thinking about a semester away, I would encourage you to at least see what the Disney College Program is all about. It may not be for everyone, equal parts physically exhausting work and play, but I can assure you the memories and people make every second worth it.