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When Your Best Friend is Snow White: 8 Reasons Why the Disney International Program Will Change Your Life Forever


The Disney International Program is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to spend one year in Orlando, Florida, working for Walt Disney World after high-school. And I am dedicating this program an entire article on my website because the Disney International Program shaped and changed my life after school in Germany like no other experience on this planet. And I am sure it will do the same for you.

The Disney International Program offered by Walt Disney World lets you live and work in Florida for 12 months.
The Disney International Program offered by Walt Disney World lets you live and work in Florida for 12 to max. 15 months.

I spent my year being part of the Disney International Program pretty much straight after graduation. I had just turned 20 and turned 21 while I was living in the United States. My year at Disney is one of the memories I will keep close to my heart for the rest of my life. Why? Because I shared an apartment, the notorious number 411, with seven amazing girls from around the world whom I built friendships with that will last a lifetime.

Because it was my first year-long stay abroad that made me grow in confidence, it gave me a sense of direction where I wanted to head professionally. It allowed me to gain work experience, improve my English, become independent, travel, be free and do all the things I love and that make me happy.

This entire year itself was an amusement park – the biggest fun I ever had in my life to-date! Full of adventures, explorations, laughter, fun, cross-cultural food parties and trips to the beach and within the US. And because apart from seven amazing roommates I was lucky enough to have a wonderful best friend: Snow White! You don’t believe me? Here is proof:

When your best friend is Snow White... You don't believe me? Here's proof!
When your best friend is Snow White… You don’t believe me? You should 🙂

So here we are! I am publishing this blogpost in English because I promised my roommates from apartment 411 to share it with them. And I won’t break my promise.

Jody, Melissa, Makkia, Elisabeth, Kathy, Elba, Cinthya and Hanane – this one is for you! It’s a love letter to you, to Mickey and the great times we had in apartment 411. I love you from the bottom of my heart. Enjoy reading, everyone!

The Disney International Program gives you friends for a lifetime.
The Disney International Program gives you friends for a lifetime.

Reason 1: You live in international apartments

One of the absolut best gains of being part of the Disney International Program is the living arrangement. When you work for Disney World in Orlando, Florida, you get to live in international shared apartments on Disney premises. The apartment complex we lived at is called „the Commons“.

The apartments there host two to eight people and Disney Housing makes sure to add an international mix to every flat. Meaning that each and every nationality is only represented once.

I decided to choose an apartment for eight people rather than two because I wanted to take a leap into the unknown, meet people and get the most out of this international living experience. Living with seven other girls from Canada, the UK, France, Norway, Hong Kong, Morocco and Mexico sounds like a challenge of its own? Yup, it can be. But it doesn’t have to be.

The secret is to jump into it with an open heart and open mind, to embrace the cultural differences and to turn them into a learning experience of extraordinary value for your entire life to come. And in hindsight I have to say that living with so many girls from different countries was really the best thing that could happen to me at the time.

On the Disney International Program you get to live with people from around the world.
On the Disney International Program you get to live with people from around the world.

It showed me that despite having grown up in all different parts of the world, we are all on the same journey in life – looking for a sense of belonging, looking for a community, looking for friendship, good times and new experiences on a global scale. We invited friends over to apartment 411 and always made sure to include our roommates in dinners, game nights and cultural festivities.

We cooked traditional food from out home countries and shared it with our international roommates. We used every opportunity to spend time together and learn from one another. And this is what made apartment 411 special. All of us entered this experience with open hearts and what we got out of it is the best thing one can possibly find in life: friendships around the globe that have been lasting for 15+ years now.

Learning for you: Wherever you may go on this planet, make sure to find a like-minded international crowd to live with and jump into this adventure head first. You can only gain from it on an intercultural and interpersonal level. So seize the opportunity!

Read more about the benefits of an international living experience abroad here: Survive & Thrive: Warum die internationale WG das beste Learning für dein Leben nach dem Abi ist.

Reason 2: You work with people from around the world

Living is just one of the fantastic benefits the Disney International Program has up the sleeve for you. Work is also fun! Because your work place is one of the parks of Walt Disney World called EPCOT (previously EPCOT Center.). EPCOT, short for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, showcases 12 different nations, all laid out around a lagoon called Lake Buena Vista.

As a German your work place is within the German pavilion in EPCOT, which is basically the German section with shops and a restaurant. And when you are part of the Disney International Program you get to either work in merchandise (the shops) or in food and beverage (the German restaurant).

The shops sell everything German from Milka chocolate bars to cuckoo clocks from the Black Forest. The German beergarden restaurant serves a German buffet featuring all the German delicacies from Augustiner beer and pretzels to pork knuckle, dumplings and potato salad.

The fun part is that your roommates work in EPCOT too, in their respective country pavilions. So when you walk around the park you have someone you know in all the shops and restaurants, which is fabulous!

My roommate Kathy from Hong Kong worked in EPCOT Center's Chinese pavillion.
My roommate Kathy worked in EPCOT’s Chinese pavilion.

EPCOT is also a great place to work because you get to meet and greet a lot of guests whom you can give a truly fantastic EPCOT experience. The Walt Disney Company is a world leader in entertainment and in creating magical guest experiences through first-class hospitality, five-star-experiences and unique individualized guest service.

So if you are interested in pursuing a career in tourism or hospitality, a job within Walt Disney’s empire will teach you how to create outstanding guest experiences and how to become a leader in making your guests‘ stay truly memorable.

Apart from the work experience you gain at EPCOT, the Walt Disney Company is an outstanding name to have on your CV when you apply for a job back home in Germany. Talking to future employers about my previous Disney experience in the US has always been a door opener to all kinds of jobs I applied for later on in life.

So the Disney International Program is not just a great way to make friends from around the world and to learn and grow hands on but also to boost your job portfolio for the years to come.

Reason 3: Your Disney work attire is a Dirndl

Alright, friends! Something odd and logical at the same time. When you work for Disney World, you obviously have a work attire that you wear when you are „on stage“, meaning when you have a role as a cast member (which is what all Disney staff are called) in one of the theme parks and you get in direct contact with guests.

Now, with EPCOT displaying 12 different nations from around the globe and trying to give their guests a unique cultural experience – what do you think would Germans working in the German pavilion in EPCOT be wearing to work? Exactly this:

When you work for the German pavilion at EPCOT, this is what you wear :-)
When you work at the German pavilion in EPCOT, this is what you wear 🙂

The Dirndl is your work outfit for 12 months and it doesn’t matter that you live in the Sunshine State Florida where temperatures reach 30+ degrees celsius pretty much every day. EPCOT celebrates Germany’s cultural heritage that comes in different dimensions: food, merchandise, clothing and last but not least cast members (employees). So the Dirndl is mandatory (and the Lederhosen for guys). Even if you sweat in it. Whether you find it cheesy or not – it doesn’t matter because your guests love it!

There’s actually two different Dirndl variations for EPCOT staff: a black one for those working in merchandise. And a red version for those in food and beverage. The good thing about a work outfit is that you literally never have to worry about what to wear to work in the morning. You just get up, get into your Dirndl and off you go! Simple and easy.

Reason 4: You sell Christmas ornaments all year long

Another memorable thing about the year at EPCOT’s German pavilion is the stuff that you sell. From cuckoo clocks to chocolates to German wines (if you’re over 21) to little porcelain figurines that are hand-painted to dolls that a German doll maker will assemble right in front of your eyes.

There is an entire shop dedicated to sweets like gummy bears, chocolates, fudge (which from an American perspective apparently counts as a German product) and so on. Another shop sells Christmas ornaments all year round. Again, living in hot and sunny Florida, this seems a bit out of place. But to be honest with you: Christmas ornaments are some of the products that Germany is know for all over the world. And the Christmas shop is always full of guests.

The Disney International Program gives you quite an interesting perspective on how Germany is perceived in the US. When it comes to architecture, food, things we consume and so on. The EPCOT Germany pavilion serves prejudices on the one hand and displays authenticity on the other.

I mean, Germany is not just Bavaria and Bavarian culture. But bringing staff from Germany over on a 12-month-visa to work in the German pavilion at EPCOT creates an authentic cultural dimension guests are able to experience and learn from. Despite being an amusement park after all, EPCOT gives interesting insights into a range of countries, their customs and people.

Selling Christmas ornaments all year long is something you have to get used to when you are part of the Disney International Program. And you’ll be surprised how you can make your guests‘ eyes light up when you sell them an ornament for their Christmas tree at home that will remind them of their visit to Walt Disney World forever.

Reason 5: You know all the Disney parks in and out

One of the fun perks of being part of the Disney International Program is that you get free access to all the Disney parks whenever your heart desires to go on some crazy rides or enjoy a meet & greet with Mickey Mouse. The parks you can enjoy are Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, MGM Studios and EPCOT, of course.

When you work for Disney you get unlimited free access to all the Disney parks.
When you work for Disney you get unlimited free access to all the Disney parks.

On top of that you get discounts on merchandise, food, hotels and pretty much everything that’s part of Walt Disney’s empire. So what do people who work for Disney World usually do on their days off? They play in the parks for free. They go on crazy rides, eat popcorn and marshmallow ice-cream and have the best time of their lives.

And you know what – after working for Disney for 15 months I have never felt the need to buy a ticket for an amusement park ever again. The entire year was an amusement park and it filled my heart with fun and good times for the years to come.

Reason 6: You’re always broke but still enjoy yourself

One thing you should keep in mind: You don’t take part in the Disney International Program to become rich or fly back to Germany with thousands of dollars of savings in your bank account. Actually it’s quite the opposite. On average you work between 30 and 40 hours per week and you earn just as much to cover your cost of living, pay your rent and enjoy some fun activities on the weekends.

But it’s not a big deal really because there is plenty to do in and around Disney and in Florida that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg. Just think about the amazing tropical beaches Florida has to offer that are free to use for everyone. So even if you don’t have much money on the side working at EPCOT, you can still enjoy yourself big time!

You don't need to spend much money when you have friends to have fun with.
You don’t need to spend much money when you have friends to have fun with.

As mentioned, all the Disney parks are free for you to use. You can have a fantastic time with your roommates cooking at home or eating out from time to time. There is even an area with bars and clubs that you are allowed to enter for free on certain nights a week.

My advice for you is: Try to keep the cost down as much as possible while you work for Disney World. Share a bigger and cheaper apartment, have fun with your friends at home or play on Disney premises for free. In essence: Make sure you have enough funds to travel on the weekends or during your holidays.

Find more tipps on how to manage your funds while living abroad (making smart living arrangements is one of them) here: Auslandsjahr finanzieren, aber finanzschlau! Meine 5 besten Auslandstricks für Sparfüchse.

So in regards to Disney the point I want to make is: Save as much of your salary as you can to explore the country. It would be sad to leave the US after 12 months and not having seen cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Which leads me right to the next reason why the Disney International Program will change your life forever – the traveling!

Reason 7: You travel till you drop

Another huge benefit of being part of the Disney International Program is having enough time to travel till you drop! Within the US and beyond. And that’s exactly what people who work for Disney World do whenever they can. The most popular places to visit are obviously the big cities that will make your jaws drop. Visiting New York over Christmas is an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience.

New York, Chicago, Washington - you name it! Make sure you travel while you work for Disney World.
New York, Chicago, Washington – you name it! Make sure you travel while you work for Disney World.

And going on a roadtrip along Florida’s East coast all the way down to Key West, stopping in Fort Lauderdale and Miami is as beautiful as it can get. The US is full of magical places, cities and beaches beyond Walt Disney World and you have to make use of the opportunity to travel around while you work at EPCOT.

The great part is that you will always find a travel buddy to hop in the car and embark on adventures with you – whether it’s your roommate or some other international friend you made on the Disney International Program. Just make sure you don’t hang out with other Germans. Make sure to mingle and build international friendships that you can keep for the rest of your life.

Traveling and international friendships are two of the biggest benefits of the Disney International Program.
Traveling and international friendships are two of the biggest benefits of the Disney International Program.

Reason 8: You party hard and still go to work the next day

Getting close to the end friends! This last reason why the Disney International Program will change your life forever is: The parties are endless. As you can imagine, living with hundreds of like-minded people who are all around the same age and with the same goal to have the best time of their lives, there is always a party somewhere.

It’s always someone’s birthday (a lot of people turn 21 during the Disney International Program meaning that they’re then officially overaged and allowed to drink in the US), there is always a national holiday of one of EPCOT’s 12 countries that needs to be celebrated. It’s always someone’s last day at Disney and this person will throw a leaving-party.

"Play hard, work hard" - this lesson learned will stay with you for the rest of your life.
„Play hard, work hard“ – this lesson learned will stay with you for the rest of your life.

But that’s not the lesson and what will change your life during your Disney year. The lesson is that you party hard every night and still get up in the morning to start your shift at EPCOT, even if you feel like sh*t. Why? Because you don’t get paid if you don’t. And you need and want the money to have even more fun on the weekends.

So, friends – discipline is key. And discipline is something you really do learn when you work for Disney World. „Work hard, play hard“ and „Play hard, work hard“ is what your year at Disney stands for. You have to be professional enough to combine the two. And it will be a learning that will set you apart from other employees for the rest of your life.

Ready to change your life forever? Apply for the Disney International Program!


Curious if this could be for you after school? Check out Disney’s International Programs here. What you need to look for is the „Cultural Representative Program“. Klick on it and read the eligibility criteria. If you want to apply for the merchandise job (working in the shops of the German pavilion at EPCOT), previous experience in sales is beneficial.

The same goes for the food & beverage job. It helps if you have already worked in a café or restaurant gaining some hospitality experience. On top of that the eligibility criteria are as follows:

Minimum 18 years of age at the time of application, fluent in English and ready to present the German culture and traditions and to give Disney’s guests a truly magical experience.

Want to know more? Hit me up: hi@dowhatyouloveacademy.de! I look forward to hearing from you.

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