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?