My STEP Signature Project was doing the Disney College Program. The Disney College Program is described as a living, learning, and earning internship. This meant that I worked at Walt Disney World from the end of January to the beginning of August, took a couple of classes offered by Disney, and I lived and made many friends on Disney property. It was a wonderful time.
The experience was one of great growth. I interacted with people from all over the world, both as co-workers and as guests. People are so unique, yet they share many commonalities in terms of what makes the best interaction. During my time at Walt Disney World, I worked in Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Africa at the Harambe Theatre. The Harambe Theatre is home to The Festival of the Lion King – the number one show on property. This meant I got to interact with a large variety of guests with a large variety of attitudes, and my coworkers were just as unique as well.
I gained greater insight into myself. For example, I knew before that I don’t like dealing with workplace drama involving coworkers and I would stay away from that kind of conflict as much as possible. However, I learned that I don’t have a problem dealing with an unhappy or angry guest, in fact, I welcome the opportunity to try to solve their problem and make their day better. I also realized how important my positivity and hard-working attitude is. They greatly affected the workplace dynamic. Positivity rubs off on people. I can say that because I was told by both guests, coworkers, performers, and stage technicians how I would make them smile and how they looked forward to my attitude and dancing skills. Through it all, I realized how important working with others and interactions with others are to me. I had known from a previous job where I had worked alone and had few interactions with other people that I didn’t really care for that. But when I got assigned positions where I was alone at Disney, it cemented the idea that although I can work alone, I thrive when working with others whether I’m working by myself with a guest or working with other co-workers.
A specific situation that made me realize how much I like to solve guest problems was on a regular July day. In Florida, rain showers in the afternoon during the summer are very common. This will often cause a slight issue when trying to get the guests to leave the covered areas of the theatre to go outside into the rain. One day, when the show was finished and the guests had exited the theatre, there were still guests taking shelter underneath a covered part of a ramp we needed to use to get guests into the theatre for the next show. My coworker could not get them to move to a covered area further down so they wouldn’t be in the way and needed our coordinator’s assistance but he was unavailable. The guests were very angry with her and would not listen. At that moment, I was available to help, so even though I wasn’t who’s help asked for over the headset I went. I approached them with a smile and explained the situation to them and how we just would like them to move to a covered area further down the ramp. I listened to their concerns, as they did not believe me and believed my coworker to be rude. I apologized and at that time the rain had become a drizzle and so I offered to walk them down and show them exactly where they could stand so they could remain dry. One of the party followed me and the rest stayed behind because they were still doubtful I was telling the truth, I showed her the location where I wanted to direct them, and we went and got the rest of the group to bring them down to the different sheltered area. I thanked them for moving and all was well. This might seem small, but in the end, I was able to solve both the problem for them and for my coworker and everyone was happy with the end result. This story is just one example of the many conflicts I was able to resolve that left everyone feeling good. In this situation, I was able to use a tool that Disney taught me named LAST. It stands for listen, apologize, solve, and thank. Every time I used this technique when dealing with an unhappy guest, the situation could usually be resolved happily and if not, then at least it was better than when we started talking. However, this situation was different than many of my other conflict resolution ones because of multiple realizations that resulted from it.
In addition to realizing that I don’t have a problem working with an unhappy guest, I realized how much I valued in making others happy. In this situation that meant solving both the guests’ problem and my coworkers’. But I was able to make people happy in many ways. I followed the rules, so, for example, I didn’t let more people into the theatre that was allowed for safety reasons even if it was the last show of the day and the family was dying to see it. But I would do my best to make people happy.
One of the guests’ least favorite part about getting their seats, is that the seats are benches that aren’t divided so the operations cast members have to ask people to slide and fill in all available space to make more seats. I would always try to make the situation fun by bouncing around, dancing, and just being very exuberant when asking guests to slide. I was asked countless times if I was a cheerleader because of my energy and positivity. (The answer is no.) One day at work, our coordinator came over the headset and was asking someone to slide the warthog section, and I did my bouncy “slide to the right, slide to the right, slide to the right, to the right, to the right!” The guests moved a significant amount, and when I was finished, our coordinator came back on the headset and she asked, “Kalina, can you do that to the giraffe section?” I did, and I opened up more seats. Earlier in the day, another coworker had asked me to do the same thing to the lion section because she had tried, and they didn’t move. She asked me to go “work my magic”, and sure enough, some seats became available. It felt wonderful being able to help both my coworkers and the guests, creating a more positive experience for everyone.
Through sliding sections, guest conflicts, and other situations, I learned what times of interactions got people to listen to you and how it varied depending on the situation. When trying to get people to slide down the benches to make more room for more guests, they responded better with enthusiastic or funny employees rather than monotone ones. My sliding earned me the nickname of the “sliding queen” because the enthusiasm and cheer that I used motivated people to move when other coworkers yielded no results. However, my positive attitude didn’t just affect the guests, it affected my coworkers as well. They enjoyed working with me because of my optimism and cheer, but also because I was good at my job and did my best the whole time I was working. I would make sure we got as many guests in as possible for each show. I loved working at the Festival of the Lion King and I am so extremely grateful for the experience.
The Disney College Program helped me learn more about myself, develop who I am, and experience and learn more about the world. It showed me that I like working with people, whether that is dancing as I try to get people to slide, working together to solve problems, entertaining a child by teaching her a game that she can do to pass the time or some other situation. I learned that even if at the start of the day, I’m not feeling one hundred percent joyful, all I need to do is put on a happy face and soon enough, I’m feeling much more positive. Despite what may happen through the day, I am resilient.
Professionally, the experience showed me so many types of jobs that are in my field that I never knew about before, and ones that I might consider pursuing. Last year, before the program, I realized that I wanted to pursue a career that involves both business and entertainment. Working at Disney solidified that job aspiration. I also learned of many jobs at Disney that would allow me to do so, which is good because the program made me realize that I want to come back and work for this company. This was an idea I thought of beforehand, but the college program confirmed it. I loved the culture of the company and the challenges. But that does not mean that I will be trying to head straight back to the Walt Disney Company, however, during my program I discovered many professional internships that I could pursue to get my foot in the door, and the internships are not just ones offered by Disney. There are many avenues and paths I could take as I continue my life journey.
My future is an uncertain one because I allow it to be. But I know that I have the tools to succeed and when I complete my schooling I will be ready for the challenges that come and face me. This is in part due to the experience STEP enabled me to have.