Five years ago, Adam from Auckland, New Zealand was studying at the University of Auckland. During his studies, he decided to participate in the Australia/New Zealand Cultural Exchange Program from 2011 through 2012. Adam worked at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (which is where I met him during my second Disney College Program) working as a Hospitality and Concierge Host.
Adam is back in New Zealand working for a large retail company. As a way to celebrate memory lane, I asked Adam about his experiences during his program. If you are interested in the Australia/New Zealand Cultural Exchange Program, visit the site, thedisneyip.com where you can find more information and place an application as we are recruiting for our January (and August) intakes.
How was it working at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge?
I was fortunate enough to be posted at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (DAKL) with its beautiful lobby at Jambo House. Seeing photos from friends of the lobby still makes me smile. One of the most beautiful entrances I’ve come across in all my travels! I also remember vividly the unique nature of the resort having the four savannas and how each one was special in its own right.
I was fortunate enough to be able to grow and develop even further in the DAKL family. I got to be a part of the arrivals team on the curbside, often being the first person that families encountered on their arrival. Seeing the delight and amazement on their face when I knew their name will always stay with me. We helped make the magic happen…I was rewarded for my efforts by becoming a Disney trainer and helping other Program [participants] learn and grow as a member of the amazing DAKL team. Topping off my experience was the opportunity to work as part of the room operations team. It’s rare for an International [Program participant] to be given that opportunity, but I loved it and I have to thank the leadership team for believing in me.
Which apartment complex did you live in?
I lived at Vista Way. Considering my height, [I was] so very glad we [lived on] the top floor with the high ceiling. I always enjoyed the proximity of the complex to food options because I never felt like cooking after a long day at work. Somehow I [was assigned to live] with 3 Australians, a kiwi’s* worst nightmare, but they were great guys and I have very fond memories of my time there.
*A “kiwi” is a slang term for a resident of New Zealand
For the Cultural Exchange Program, you were required to experience the American culture. Do you have any memorable experiences?
Where do I start? I could honestly name so many experiences I had immersing myself in the culture. But far and away one of the greatest moments in my time in America was my trip to Green Bay. I’m a sports fanatic and a huge fan of the Packers, so getting the opportunity to watch [the Green Bay Packers] play at Lambeau Field was a dream come true. It certainly helped that they secured a convincing victory against the Minnesota Vikings.
After finishing my program, I spent days on a road trip traveling from Chicago all the way out east to Boston, through New York, and all the way down to Miami. I learned so much about the history of the United States and saw so many amazing sights. I was fortunate enough to be in New York the day they launched the exhibition of the space shuttle. A phenomenal experience! The most poignant moment of that trip would have been my visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
What would you say was the biggest difference between living at home and in Florida?
Not having mum around to tidy up after me. Just kidding! It’s hard to say what the biggest difference was. The U.S. is just so very different to little old New Zealand. I think one of the differences I always remember was the number of aisles at the supermarket dedicated to pizzas and frozen meals. I’d also be remiss to not mention the weather. Auckland would be regarded as mild all year round, and gets into the mid 20’s Celsius [mid 60’s Fahrenheit] during the summer and down into single digits in the middle of winter. Remember in the southern hemisphere we’re opposite so [holidays are] often at the beach.
Did you pick up or notice any “habits” since your program? (American mannerisms, etc.)
I remember when I arrived back in New Zealand I had an American twang with a lot of my words. I’d developed it so that I could be understood. The number of confused looks I got when I asked guests to check-in is too many to count. They’d always look back at me thinking I asked if they “wanted chicken.” (As an aside the food at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is amazing – Sanaa was my favorite restaurant on property).
There are two habits that I still have five years on when Disney taught me. Firstly the “Disney point” (pointing with two fingers) – that’s something you never forget. The second is the phrase, “my pleasure”… because it indicates that we were happy to help. I always was because I was making magic every day.
What was your more impactful guest experience that you had or witnessed?
There are two experiences that stand out. I remember one day reading through the arrivals list and seeing a Maori surname (the indigenous culture of New Zealand). The moment I saw that name, I vowed that I would greet them when they arrived.
The other standout moment was a special surprise that a family put together for their grandmother. She had always dreamed of going to Africa one day, but had never been able to get there. So her family all chipped in and surprised her by bringing her to the next best thing…DAKL! When she walked through those doors into the lobby and took in the sight of Jambo House, she burst into tears of joy. She never thought she’d get to experience Africa, but Disney brought Africa to her.
What have you done since completing your program?
Upon returning to New Zealand I began working for [one of] New Zealand’s largest electronics retailers as a buyer. I have since moved on to New Zealand’s largest retailer, still in a buying role, and I get to travel to China twice a year for product sourcing. I also finished my Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Auckland. The travel bug bit me when I was in the United States and since my return, I have travelled [to] South East Asia and South America…I hope to make it back to Orlando someday and visit the resort in which I made so many memories.
Do you have any other stories or advice you would like to give to future participants?
I think the key piece of advice for those attending or considering the program is to go in with an open mind. Disney is a world of opportunity if you go about it the right way. I was extremely fortunate with the opportunities that came my way and I had an amazing management team that supported me. This really is an opportunity of a lifetime. As a Disney cast member, every day you interact with hundreds if not thousands of guests who you can surprise and delight in a multitude of ways.
From a toddler of two to a grandmother with dreams of Africa, every guest that walks through those doors has a Disney dream and you get to make those dreams come true. That is truly an incredible feeling. For those about to embark on your Disney journey, “Dumela” [meaning ‘greetings’] you’re about to make memories to last a lifetime. For those reminiscing about their Disney journey, and specifically if you were lucky enough to work at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, I leave you with these words; Once you have set foot on the continent of Africa, you can never shake the dust from your boots.