I can’t believe it, but my Disney College Program is just about half way through. It feels like I just moved here, but at the same time it feels like that car ride from Iowa was forever ago. I have been able to do a lot with my time here, but there’s still so much left I want to do.
Coming to California was a dream of mine that came true when I was at HyVee one day getting Chinese food in March. Ever since then I had been fantasizing about what this program would hold for me. There were days of doubt and there were days where I knew this was exactly what I needed to do. I had a lot of people telling me I was crazy for taking a semester off to work as a cashier at Disneyland, but I had this gut feeling it was right for me. So, against everything my advisors at school told me, I left for the program on August 8th.
The Road Trip:
I drove out to California with my boyfriend. It was supposed to take us 29 hours to make the drive from Des Moines. Along the way, we decided to make a few pit stops at some major landmarks. It was the first time either one of us were heading west of Denver, CO. We wanted to make it count.
Our first stop was completely spontaneous and unplanned. We were in middle of Nebraska when we decided we wanted to drive through the mountains. We mapped out a new route to go through the Rocky Mountain National Park. We planned on just driving through since it would already add two hours to our trip, but the views were way too beautiful to just drive by. We ended up staying at the national park for almost two hours.
We got so many amazing pictures, but they don’t do it justice. The memories made there will never fade. We were dressed for a car ride, so we were in some comfy shorts and tank tops since we were in the hottest part of August for Iowa. Well, when we decided to get out and get pictures in the mountains it was 15 degrees. Everyone thought we were crazy, but we climbed up to one of the peaks and took our pictures and had fun the whole way, minus some very acute altitude sickness.
After we left the Rocky Mountain National Park we continued on our way to Grand Junction, CO. It was one of the scariest drives I had ever made. It started to rain and we were driving up and down some of the steepest hills I had ever seen. It was a white knuckle drive for the next hour or two, but it eventually cleared. We made it to Grand Junction that night around midnight (mountain time). We had traveled for 17 hours our first day.
The next morning, we realized we set our alarms wrong, and then managed to sleep through them so we had a later start than planned, but that was okay because I forgot about the time zone change at our next stop. We didn’t realize that right away, though. We hopped into the car and panicked a little. We wanted to hurry up and get on the road so we could get to the Grand Canyon during the day. We had about 4 hours until we got there. We turned up the tunes and kept on with our drive.
After about 4 hours we start seeing signs like we are close to the Grand Canyon and we could tell by the surrounding landscape. The GPS said we had just a few minutes left in our drive. Slowly, the minutes ticked away, but we still weren’t seeing much. We shrugged it off and kept going. When the car’s clock said we were 10 minutes over due to arrive, I made the realization we had changed time zones and we had another hour to go.
We were starving and running low on gas. I started to get nervous, but we made it up to the canyon and got lunch and the tank full. Then, we found the visitor center, parked, and saw the most amazing views. There are no words for the Grand Canyon. Pictures can’t even come remotely close to the canyon. I was in awe. I stood at the edge and just soaked it in. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen. We sat there for awhile just looking over the edge. After awhile, we started getting annoyed with all the tourists pushing around, so we walked around the rim a little and checked out the buildings at the edge.
We left the canyon shortly after, but made several stops for pictures on the way out. We watched the helicopter fly over us. I had never seen them so low before this. Eventually, we had to leave to stay on schedule. We were heading to the Hoover Dam next. We stayed longer than we thought at the canyon, so when we got to the Hoover Dam it was too dark and we decided to spend the night in Vegas, and we would back track in the morning.
We weren’t 21 yet, so there wasn’t much for us in Vegas. We made the most of it, though. We we stayed at a hotel near Freemont Street and got tickets to go on the zip line. Connor had never gone zip lining before, so I was excited to take him. It had a great view of Freemont St., but it wasn’t my favorite time zip lining. My harness didn’t fit right, so it was very uncomfortable, but nevertheless, it was so much fun. We went back to our room after the zip line, ate some dinner and went to bed. We had a pretty long day so we were ready for bed pretty early.
The next day we made our way back to the Hoover Dam. That was the first time I saw how badly the west coast was being impacted by climate changes. When I was a kid, my parents visited the Hoover Dam and took some pictures. I loved these photos and would look through them frequently. When I went this fall with Connor, it looked very different. The water was nowhere near the photos my parents had. It was really eye opening seeing this for myself. I always heard the news or scientists reporting on these issues, but seeing it in person is very different.
After the Hoover Dam, we were on our way to Irvine, CA, to stay with my aunt until my program started. The rest of our drive was pretty uneventful, besides our first check point on the highways and our first safety corridors. That was such a foreign concept to two Iowa college kids. We were officially starting to get a little bit of a culture shock.
My program started on August 13th. I moved into the apartments on the 13th with my four roommates, and everything was starting to finally feel real. We went to housing meetings and I exchanged gifts with my roommates. I always knew this program would fly by, but I could never have imagined it would go this fast.
My experience with the college program can be split into three categories: Work, Class, and Adventures. The first half of my program has been filled with a ton of adventures, but I feel like that might slow down now that Disneyland is getting into their busier season. I’m just going to jump right into the categories.
Work is the biggest part of my program. I found out in the spring that my role was a quick serve food and beverage cashier. It wasn’t until move in day that I found out that I was going to be at the Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland.
I didn’t start work right away, though, when I got to Anaheim. The first week here was spent in classes all day learning about the Disney brand called Traditions. Now, to be on the safe side I don’t want to share too much about what we were taught during this week, but it was an incredible experience to learn about all the details and thought behind the parks and then finally go into the parks for my first time. It’s no wonder that Disney is so successful with what they do. The attention to detail is absolutely amazing. There is always a reason for everything. No matter how small.
After a week of traditions, our name tags and a special gift was given to us and we were on our way to on-site training. I trained for three days and it was completely overwhelming. There was so much to learn, and little did I know at the time, I would have to relearn everything 3 weeks later when we changed our menu.
This role is definitely not easy and some days are easier or worse than others. Some days I wonder if this was worth it. I couldn’t help but think, ‘All I’m doing is asking if they want apples or yogurt. Why did I leave school for this?!’ Some days I still think the same thing, but then I get shifts at Mickey’s Halloween Party where I get to interact with kids all night long and just have fun with my role where everything seems worth it.
Now, after eight weeks, I’m really starting to figure things out about life within my role. Sure, most days I’m just asking if they want apples and fries or yogurt and fries. I used to get so frustrated when they would only answer with “fries” every time because I gave them two options and I had to repeat the question for what seemed like the billionth time that day. One day, I was in a particularly good mood at work and I thought to myself, ‘I can’t get frustrated with these guests because, even though I have asked this question 100 times that day, they weren’t there for those 100 times.’
While this is a small example, the general idea applies to my life frequently. Over the summer, I had interned with the Iowa Cubs again. I was one of the only interns returning for a second season, so I was ready and I knew how things worked. I just assumed everyone else did too that was coming in as a new intern and it was frustrating because our set up at the Iowa Cubs was different than what they had known at their school.
In both examples, this was someone’s first time with this experience, so instead of getting frustrated with that fact, I should be excited that I can teach them something and with this interaction I might learn something new too. At Disneyland, I have learned that some of my guests came to celebrate being free of cancer for 25 years. At the Iowa Cubs, I have learned about shots that they like to take at Iowa State, and that inspired me to find some more creative shots.
Through my job, I have also been looking at my leads’ leadership styles. I have been doing this for awhile with my other jobs in Des Moines, but since my leadership classes at Drake, I have been watching even closer. I have so many leads at the Galactic Grill that I have been able to watch all these styles work differently on different personalities. I’m still trying to work out my thoughts on the leadership in my location. Hopefully I can reflect on this more at the end of my program. I plan to develop leadership techniques I can learn from Disney and transfer those to a job in Des Moines while I finish up my degree or at an internship this spring. I’m not sure where I will be yet at the end of my program.
On the note of leadership, I’m taking a seminar through my DCP called ‘The Leadership Speaker Series.’ This was one of my main reasons for applying to the DCP. I wanted the opportunity to meet executives in the company. While I was hesitant to take a class at 8:30am that was going to be essentially “lectures,” I am incredibly happy I decided to go with my gut on this one. I expected to be bored through the entire series until it came to creative entertainment or anything with my major. I wasn’t interesting in Imagineering or Fairy Tale Weddings, but all of our speakers so far have been able to relate their field to all of us.
Every week, I’m scribbling quotes down as quickly as I can. They have given great advice on life, whether it’s our professional lives or personal lives. I have learned an incredible amount of new leadership ideas and ways to develop myself professionally. I have received some great advice that I have never heard anywhere else.
My favorite speaker that came in so far was an imagineer, Vinny Logozio. He made a few points that have really stuck with me, now four weeks later. During our lecture he said, “I’m not an imagineer, I just am.” This really had me thinking about how we use titles to brand ourselves, but that doesn’t say much about who we really are. Right now I’m a cashier at Galactic Grill and a student at DMACC and Drake University. This doesn’t tell you anything about me, though. I plan to use this idea in my pageants. I’m not Miss *insert name of title here, * I’m a Mission 22 Ambassador who wants to spread awareness about veterans facing PTSD and TBI, and I enjoy long boarding, art and all these other things that make me, me.
Another point that Vinny made was about the people in our lives. He said there are three types of people in our lives that we don’t need.
Types of people we don’t need:
1. Random “Asshats”
2. Outright Abusers
The first set of people are just random rude people that we don’t need in our lives. The second group are the people that put us down no matter what. These people are the one’s who are saying one thing but it sounds like they don’t mean it. The example Vinny used was from a friend. She told her family that she was studying architecture and they responded, “how… contemporary of you.” They just can’t support you for whatever reason. The third group is the one that I found most interesting. The jellyfish are the people who pull you in closest and then once you are there and they gain your trust, they sting you. Vinny describes these people as very toxic.
Throughout our weeks of class, we have gotten so many great speakers giving us amazing advice. We have talked to people from all areas, but somehow they manage to relate their job to all of us. I’m really looking forward to the rest of our classes to see what else I can learn from the leaders in this company.
On average, each week I’m working around 26-32 hours. This leaves a lot of time to hang out with people since I’m only taking two online classes. Through the program I have made four very close friends and we hang out very regularly. We have had tons of adventures together in the SoCal area.
I think my favorite adventure so far has been exploring the LA Area with Kaylee, Austin and Racquel. In the morning we drove to Burbank and walked around the Walt Disney Studios. It was an absolutely amazing experience! We were able to do a lot more than we thought we would be able to. We started out with the Legend’s Plaza looking at the hand prints of famous Disney cast members.
We spent the rest of the day going through the animation building to see Walt’s wing of the building, Frank G. Wells’ Archives, the soundstages and finally we got lunch at the studios as well.
After we left the studios, we headed over the the Getty Center. Austin raved about the Getty Center for the photo opportunities. Getting to the Getty Center was an adventure on it’s own since the tram broke down. Eventually we made it though and we spent the afternoon there. When we were leaving
it was around 5pm and we didn’t want to sit in the traffic on the freeways, so we decided to take another detour to Santa Monica and hang out at the beach for awhile. We got there at a perfect time for pictures, so we took a few there and it was great practice with the lighting changing so rapidly.
Since I have gotten here, I haven’t had a day where I had sit around and did absolutely nothing. I have been keeping myself really busy. We have hiked in the mountains, “voluntEARed” with some friends around Orange County, gone to an Angels game… We have done everything under the sun that we can think of and we still have more on our list for the second half of the program.
Coming out the program in California has also shown me how different each state can be. So far, I have experienced two wildfires and two rain showers. I think that’s one thing I miss most about being home. The rain. Even the pumpkin patches are different here. There’s so many small details of everyday life that makes a world’s difference in the big picture.
I’m so glad I have been able to call California home for the last two months. I’m not sure if this is where I want to be when I’m looking for a job, but this experience has been invaluable.