Get with the program: Disney College Program

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Many of the millions of yearly visitors to Walt Disney World Resort like to think of their trip to Disney as coming home.  Disney loves that.  They call you guests as if Lumiere were about to serve you in Beast’s Castle, but they want you to feel like family, as if this is where you belong. It’s all part of the magic.

But for some of us, the idea that Walt Disney World is home isn’t just part of a story, it’s true.  For 30 years now, the Disney College Program has been giving wayward college students a home and a chance to live in the magic.

That probably sounds cheesy and if you knew me, it would seem even stranger.  But I believe that Walt Disney World is truly a place of magic, or it can be if you’re willing to open your heart. Most of the people who have never been think of it as just another theme park like Six Flags, Universal or –to an extent— even Disneyland.  But something happens to you on that ride in on the Magical Express bus, when the narrator says “Welcome home.” you cease to exist in the world outside.  When you get off the bus you’re in a place where you can forget your troubles and simply be happy.

They sell you on the College Program with promises of a better resume and job opportunities.  But no one joins the Program for job recommendations.  You go because you want to be a part of Disney.

It’s difficult to describe life there.  You spend half your time working and the other half… living.  New people, new friends, new cultures… it’s 10 years of experiences in a bottle.  And yes, there are the Parks.  Imagine getting done with your work day and immediately riding Space Mountain.  Imagine taking a break from your 8 hour day to watch Illuminations.   Imagine getting paid to introduce a 4 year old girl to Mickey Mouse.  If the smile on her face doesn’t make you believe there’s magic in the world, nothing will.

I was a monorail pilot for a little while.  I take pride in knowing only a handful of people ever get to drive those wonderful trains, and I was one of them.  There’s nothing that compares.  At the end of a long night working EPCOT, I would board the train bound for the TTC.  Alone in the night, I would listen to the queue.  “Por favor.  Mantenganse alejando de las puertas.” Oh how those words make me smile.

The next time you see my Monorail Pink, tell her I said hello.

The College Program wasn’t a perfect situation.  I was broke.  There were fights with roommates and friends.  And I saw behind the curtain, where the wizard is just a man speaking into a microphone.  But through it all, there was a sense of wonder.

I’m not sure you’re able to appreciate it at the time, but it’s a gift.  Life in Walt Disney World was a once in a lifetime experience.  I’ve spent the last decade trying to recreate it and nothing comes close. The real world doesn’t compare. The air isn’t nearly as rare. The food isn’t as good.  And no one plays Hapa Duniani as I’m walking through the forest. It doesn’t take long to figure out that this is not where you belong.

It’s not until I go back to Florida for a few days and I step off that bus… that’s when I know I’m home.

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