If you are in college currently, there’s no doubt that the Disney College Program will come up in conversation. For those of you who don’t know, the Disney College Program (DCP for short) is an internship that lasts 4 to 11 months.
College students of any age can apply to work at Walt Disney World or Disneyland in a variety of jobs.
When starting community college, there was a sense of uncertainty within me. I started off as a nursing major but quickly realized that was NOT for me. The DCP was something I had thought about but never realized would be a reality. On a leap of faith, I applied for the program and attended an audition to be a Character Performer. I got in. Without hesitating I dropped out of school, packed my bags and moved to the sunshine state to embark on my journey.
On January 31st of 2016, I hopped on a plane to Florida. This was the first time I was on my own.
The following year of my life would be something that was an indescribable experience. I met some of my best friends, got to perform in the nightly parade and had the experience of a lifetime working with Disney. Through the ups and downs that were my DCP, there was an abundance of questions racing in my mind. What will I do when it ends? Will I stay? Will I continue to take time off from school?
More opportunities within the company kept presenting themselves to me and that made things more difficult. It was increasingly harder and harder to leave. A year prior I was a senior in high school in Pennsylvania. I had grown so much as a person that the idea of leaving seemed scary. Everyone from back home was constantly telling me how proud they were of me. I couldn’t possibly return to my old life. I felt trapped.
In January of 2017 my DCP ended and I continued to be a seasonal cast member. But this meant something that would be devastating: It was time to move back home. Packing up my bags, I moved back to Pennsylvania where I was to start up school again. Yes I still worked for Disney, but my whole life had changed. I grew sad and distant.
My scenery went from palm trees and castles to snow and cloudy skies. No longer could I go to Disney World on my day off and have fun. I deeply missed my friends, my job and Florida as a whole. People would run into me and say things like “Don’t you miss Disney?” or “Why would you ever move back?!”
At age 19 I was having an identity crisis because the one thing in my life that people thought was “cool” was no longer relevant. I was just like everyone else. No one cared that I was in a Disney parade or show. It was something that hurt for a little but it taught me something valuable. Your job is not everything.
Going back to school full time was overall very challenging.
Every day in class I felt stuck. I was spending time in college when I could have just been at Disney. In a way I felt like a child pressing his nose against glass as I watched all my friends play outside. Scrolling through social media was a chore. Seeing all of my friends from Disney posting about their lives made me depressed. It was unhealthy. Why was I so unhappy with my life?
Coming home was something I did not want but desperately needed. It forced me to analyze my life. I began to dig deep within myself to see why a theme park was dictating my happiness. Could I be a person without having to mention that I worked for Disney every five seconds? Yes, of course. It was a challenge at first but as I gradually adjusted to my surroundings, it got easier. Once I shifted my focus on other areas of my life, the thought of Florida began to escape my mind more.
Eventually, I resigned from Disney altogether to focus on my education.
With time, I earned an Associate’s Degree in Communications from community college. I had accomplished something I never thought was possible. This past year I transferred to a four-year college where I am set to graduate next spring.
To be completely honest I still miss Disney. There are days where I get sad and feel low. I have no shame in that. Sometimes I vent to my friends about how I want to drop out of school again. It happens. However, I constantly remind myself that when I walk across the stage and graduate next year it will all be worth it. Despite the occasional sadness, I recognize that moving back home has brought a tremendous amount of good.
I discovered I love writing. It’s therapeutic and makes me feel centered. For the first time in my life I have grown passionate about pursuing my education. Getting a bachelor’s degree seemed far-fetched three years ago. Now it is my reality. I also have experienced things that wouldn’t have been possible had I stayed in Orlando. I interned at a radio station, and even got promoted at my current job.
If I can take one thing away from this, it’s that happiness comes from within. I love Disney. However, if I never work with them again, I know I’ll be one hundred percent okay—I’m capable of being happy no matter where I am.
Life has a funny way of presenting different lessons to you in disguise. As a whole, my college experience has been interesting, even hectic at times, I don’t regret a thing. The “Disney chapter” of my life is closed, for now. The future is uncertain and that still scares me. However, we are adaptable beings that are capable of many different paths. It is our duty to explore them and make the best out of what is given to us. Branch out and experience all you can.