Work Abroad: My year as a Disney World cast member

Once upon a time there was a girl from the far, far north. Her name was Kristine and she was as pale as the snow that was covering the city she once lived in. Her life was a bore and she wanted to break free from it all. She wanted to spread her wings and fly far away,  across the Atlantic ocean – to work for the Mouse in the Sunshine State. One day she received the magical message she had been impatiently waiting for: Mickey Mouse was excited to welcome her to his team and rescue her from her old, boring habits. The pale northerner was the happiest she’d ever been and couldn’t resist the urge to break into song and dance, with the sound of wind howling outside. On a magical night in January 2014, her new life began. A beautiful new life. And she lived happily ever after…

…Or at least for one year, until the contract finished and the temporary worker visa expired. And was it really all that “magical”? Why did they recruit someone all the way from Norway to work in Florida?

I’ll explain all of that – and more. First of all, I didn’t work at Magic Kingdom, which is the main park and what most people associate with Disney World because of the iconic Cinderella castle, all the meet & greet’s and obviously all the fun attractions, like the “Pirates of the Caribbean”-ride and Space Mountain. A lot of people who have never been to Disney World, seem to think that Magic Kingdom is the only park there. Well, guess what? There’s five more (including the two water parks).

I worked at Epcot, a park dedicated to the celebration of human achievement, technological innovation and international culture. Epcot has a “world showcase” themed area, containing 11 pavilions which are all themed and dedicated to represent a specific country (Mexico, Norway, China, Japan, USA, Canada, France, Italy, Morocco, UK and Germany). The title of my position was “cultural representative” for the Norwegian Pavilion and I was given the option to work in merchandise, food & beverage or attractions. I chose merchandise, as I was already experienced as a merchandiser.We sold high quality Norwegian outerwear, cosmetics, miniature trolls and other figurines, candy and canned foods, books and obviously toys and other merchandise from the movie Frozen. At Disney World, there’s no such thing as staff or uniforms; you’re a cast member and you’re wearing a costume. It sounds a lot more fun that way, doesn’t it? And it was. It made us feel like we were playing a part, just as much as any Disney character would. And why wouldn’t I wanna feel like a Disney princess?

An important part of the program was the housing situation. Disney World provided housing for all their international workers, with apartments ranging in size from 1 bedroom to 4 bedrooms – which were all shared with others. In the US it’s quite common to share a dorm room with another person, but in Europe – at least in Northern Europe – we’re not used to sharing a bedroom with someone we don’t know. The lack of privacy obviously caused a lot of challenges and sometimes led to conflicts between people, either due to cultural differences or personality differences. I was told a fair share of scary stories during that year and witnessed some as well – and during my program I heard they added even a third bed into most of the apartments. Who knows? You might become best friends with your roommates. You might hate their guts. Maybe you’ll be indifferent.

Still, the most amazing part of the program was meeting wonderful new people. I made some of the greatest friends I’ve ever had, made amazing memories with them and together we all celebrated Christmas, birthdays and other important events that would have made me feel homesick if it wasn’t for these people. Our managers at Disney World were fantastic as well. My father passed away while I was working in Florida and the managers comforted me as if they were my real family. I will never forget how supportive and caring they were. I will never forget how happy I was being part of the Disney family.

And you know what else made me happy? Getting free access to all the Disney Parks whenever I wanted that year! If I could have traveled back in time and told 5 year old me that I would later work for the Mouse and hang out in Disney World as much as I wanted, I’m sure 5 year old me wouldn’t even believe it. Because it kind of sounds to good to be true, right?

10945506_10205666279405337_771374322444464612_n10805542_10205669325321483_6737945676864701999_n10440266_10205669306521013_3077511747876456259_n10931275_10205635430514134_4388818144067705857_n

fb_img_1476447467231

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

That time when I traveled solo from state to state (US)

A couple of years ago, I was a temporary resident in the sunshine state. A legal alien in Florida. At times I really felt like an alien, with my many “fish out of water” experiences. Humidity was completely foreign to me, and so was the concept of Walmart and its culture. Walmart in Florida was different than anything I’d ever seen before. I’m not talking about the selection of products or the size of the place. I’m talking about the people of Walmart. The exhibitionists, the eccentric men and women who just don’t care what people think, and the ones who were too spaced out to even pay attention. This was my first impression of The United States of America. And then something else happened. I started to get days and weeks off from work – which, by the way, was Disney World. I wanted to spend my free time wisely. I wanted to travel from state to state and see more of the land of the free and the home of the brave. And I wanted to do it by myself.

Before venturing into the unknown, I asked for advice from different people who had already done a bit of traveling within the US, and others who were experienced solo travelers. I wanted my first experience to be a good one. I wanted to make sure I’d be safe and not too lonely. I think I worried more about loneliness than my own safety, to be honest. How naive and foolish of me.

I ended up going to New York City. Manhattan. I should have gone to Brooklyn, as Brooklyn is more my style. In fact, I love Brooklyn so much that if anyone offered me a loft apartment and a job there, I’d drop my life in Paris in a heartbeat. Instead of four nights in Brooklyn, I stayed at Empire Hotel on the upper west side, as I used to be a big fan of the TV-series Gossip Girl. The hotel was one of the filming locations and my favorite character was the one who owned that hotel in the series.The city that never sleeps never slept. I got myself a private guide who gave me a 6 hour walking tour and I explored the rest of the city completely on my own and mostly by foot. And guess what, I have never felt as safe as I did in New York City.

fb_img_1473188777731

And then there was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It wasn’t technically a solo trip, as I had gone there specifically to be someones wedding date. But I did spend most of the time alone anyway, so it kind of was a solo trip. I was neither impressed nor unimpressed with Pittsburgh. People seemed friendly, the Pittsburgh sandwich was quite alright (with its fries and coleslaw inside of the sandwich) and the city itself seemed like a fun place to party or watch football – at the Heinz Field stadium, obviously.

fb_img_1473188685687

Before moving to the US, I volunteered as a staff member for the Norwegian Travel Exposition. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to mingle with important people in the industry, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste a single minute of it. I stayed at the exposition from 10 AM to 7 pm every single day that week. Determined and hopeful. Thanks to my stubborn attitude, I was introduced to the CEO of Mall of America. It was quite a coincidence, actually. He needed to make a phone call but didn’t have a phone, and I immediately came to the rescue and offered him mine. We ended up chatting, he tried to convince me to visit Mall of America and perhaps apply for an internship. I never got around to applying for an internship there, but I did put this enormous mall on my bucket list. And I did end up going there. The summer of 2014, approximately six months after my encounter with the CEO of Mall of America. Solo. Hello Bloomington and Minneapolis, Minnesota!

fb_img_1473188477321

I also went to Boston, Massachusetts that summer. I had never seen this many Dunkin’ Donuts shops in my entire life. And I had never felt as close to Europe as I did in Boston. Certain parts of the city had kind of a British feel. After seven months away from my continent, it felt good to be somewhere that kind of reminded me of something closer to home. I enjoyed Boston. Too bad I’m allergic to shellfish and was unable to enjoy some of their local specialties – because their seafood is supposed to be absolutely amazing!

fb_img_1473188588722

People visit Chicago, Illinois for different reasons. Mine was personal. As I’m half Polish, I was interested in visiting Chicago to learn about the history of the Polish community in the city. I booked a guided tour of The Polish Museum of America and visited one of the Polish restaurants in what used to be the Polish downtown in Chicago. There I was, enjoying a meal just like the ones my mother used to make, in a country far away from Poland – yet, both the waiter, the chef (his mother) and the news reporter on the TV in the background, were right there, speaking the language. This was the first time I had felt slightly homesick during my solo travels. I was happy to be in cool Chicago, but my pierogi dinner (filled dumplings) triggered something inside me. I missed my mother.

fb_img_1473188435409

Denver, Colorado. If only I had a dollar for every time someone asks me if I went there to smoke grass, I’d be a millionaire by now. And the answer is no, I didn’t go there to smoke anything. I went there because I wanted to go there. The highlight of the trip was discovering an amazing independent bookstore called Tattered Cover Book Store. I bought five books there, and wanted to buy so much more. Their selection of travel books was great. No, great is an understatement. Fantastic.

fb_img_1473188223838

And now, let’s talk about California, shall we? I visited San Francisco and Los Angeles on the same trip, and then returned to Cali to visit San Diego a few months later. I loved San Francisco and San Diego. L.A. not so much. I felt like I was too middle class and basic (guess I explored the wrong neighborhoods) , too ugly and too non-artistic to fully enjoy what Los Angeles has to offer for people who want to be more than just the average tourist, but can’t afford a lavish lifestyle. San Francisco was as windy as I expected it to be (I was there in November) but I fell in love with the city and its hip and artsy vibe. I also had a short fling with a guy I met during that trip, which made the taste of San Francisco even sweeter. But the sweetest was the taste of San Diego sunshine, vegan tacos at SOL CAL Cafe, street markets and feeling the sand between my toes and letting the waves crash on my feet (Coronado Island). San Diego was my California dream.

10945606_10205695947267015_1733068505906961900_nfb_img_1473188015841

Beverly Hills (below)

fb_img_1473188137754

Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco

fb_img_1473188174993

This legal alien went to The White House. Not really, but I saw it from a distance while visiting Washington D.C. – the capital of the United States (in case you didn’t know). I saw all the monuments, as they were pretty much all next to each other, and I ate delicious street food from food trucks, alongside a whole lot of businessmen in suits. (the photo below is of the United States capitol)

fb_img_1473188515639

Savannah, Georgia was another city on my bucket list. Why? Well, I love the movie Forrest Gump and Savannah was one of the filming locations for that movie. I went to the exact same spot where that famous bench used to be – only to find out that it was no longer there. Well, you know what Forrest Gump used to say…”Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”.

fb_img_1473188377836

So the big question is; what have I learned from traveling solo? 

I have learned that it’s okay to be alone. It’s no big deal to dine alone in restaurants, visit museums alone or explore monuments and sites completely by myself. It’s absolutely fine! Sure, I had moments where I felt lonely and wished someone was there to share these memories with me. But the freedom, oh the freedom, it made everything worth it. If I wanted to visit four coffee shops in one day, I could. If I wanted to have an early dinner or a very late breakfast, I could! And if I wanted to spend two hours in a book store and the rest of the day in a museum – guess what, I could do that too!

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel with my boyfriend, my friends and my family, but I’d rather go on another solo adventure than spend my time waiting for someone to join me on my trip, only to find out that they’re not going after all. Then what? Don’t you ever let your fear or other people’s opinions get in the way of your solo travels, and don’t you ever wait around for someone who says they “might” join you, if you’re certain that they won’t. Spread your wings. Fly solo.