After visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, for the past two summers, John Fernandez, a fourth-year digital enterprise management student, wondered how he could use his passions for business, marketing, and creativity to gain him unlimited access to the entertainment complex and an opportunity to work for the Walt Disney Company. One day at the amusement park, he spotted multiple employees adorning name tags decorated with Canadian locations, such as “University of Toronto,” asked some questions, and found his answer: the Walt Disney World International Program, a program that hires employees from around the world to live and work at the Walt Disney World Resort.

After a successful interview, Fernandez filed his papers for his work visa and spent his summer working at Walt Disney World as one of 7,000 successful candidates chosen from a batch of 50,000 applicants to participate in this international internship experience.

The application process introduced Fernandez to a variety of Canadians as people from all across Canada flocked to one of three locations to be interviewed for a chance to work at Disney.

“I thought [the interview] would be serious, but when you walk in, they welcomed you as part of the family. They wanted to share what they are and who they are, and from the beginning they introduced everyone to the culture of the company,” states Fernandez as he reflects on his application process.

Once Fernandez landed in Orlando, he attended an orientation at Disney University that he describes as “one of the best job orientations” he has participated in.

“Disney knows that it’s important for their new cast members to know what they truly stand for. So at the university there were classes on the history of the company and the culture of company,” Fernandez explains. “They showed us clips of kids enjoying the park and having tears of joy because they saw their favourite character and that inspired us to go beyond our comfort zone and give the best customer service we can. They say ‘we make magic,’ and they showed us what actual magic is.”

As a Merchandise and Sales Intern, Fernandez operated in Disney Springs, the resort’s shopping district, where he worked in a variety of stores. At each store, Fernandez was responsible for adapting to the store’s theme and continuing the storytelling of the store while selling merchandise to guests.

Despite the excitement of interacting with families, Fernandez explains that the position was “more labour intensive” than his previous jobs, as he had to constantly sell guests products or services. However, Fernandez notes that Disney offered strategies to help employees transform the sales pitch into a fun, personalized form of “play-acting.”

“For example, if you’re working at Magic Kingdom where all the princesses are and every child is dressed up as their favourite princess, Disney told us to say ‘Hey princess, how are you doing? How is your kingdom?’ When you talk to [the guests], you find out their interests and tailor your sales pitch towards that,” Fernandez says. “It just feels like playing with the kids, and I like that.”

Fernandez credits his time spent networking and completing presentations in UTM’s DEM program for enhancing his communication skills and preparing him for the job at Disney. “At Disney it’s very communication-based, if you don’t know how to talk or make connections with guests and other employees, then it won’t be a good experience,” he says.

Fernandez encourages students willing to embark on an international experience, “You never know what’s going to happen and it’s good to grow out of your comfort zone because you never know what’s out there until you go and tackle it. It may change the way you think about your career. This internship changed the way I see things and what I want to do after graduation.”

Reflecting on his summer, Fernandez accentuates that the experience “wasn’t work, it was making dreams come true” for families and feels that Disney inspired him to set bigger goals for his future.

“Before Disney, whenever I would make goals, they would be small goals. I knew I could achieve them and they’re easy to achieve. Going into Disney you realize that was a big goal and it was a competitive situation. I didn’t know if I’d get in and the fact that I got in made me realize that if I set bigger goals I can achieve them the way I achieved my internship,” Fernandez says.

“I need to set my goals bigger and, as cliché as it sounds, Disney would say, ‘dream bigger.’ It’s inspirational because everything about Walt Disney World was someone’s dream and it’s growing and it’s one of the leading companies. If they can make it happen, maybe I can make it happen.”

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