Travel Confessions: Jayden Weidemann on USA working holidays
Jayden Weidemann loves the American way of life. So much so, that after studying in New York, the Sunshine Coast uni graduate went back to the States for more, this time on a USA working holiday with none other than Mickey and Minnie at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Student Flights caught up with Jayden to get all the goss about living and working at Walt Disney World and taking a gap year in the US of A.
What inspired to you to move to the USA for a year and work at Disney World Florida?
I had previously studied abroad in Niagara Falls, New York. I had the best experience living in the American dormitories with a bunch of crazy Italian exchange students. I finished my study abroad experience by couch surfing for a month and doing a one-month Contiki trip across the USA. This experience opened my eyes to what the US had to offer. I realised there were plenty more roads for me to explore, bigger burgers to conquer and plenty more stories to be heard. I would be back. I returned to Australia to complete my last semester of university and was looking for opportunities to work in the US for after I graduated. I came across a poster at uni advertising the Disney International College program - an opportunity to work at Disney World Florida for either 6 or 12 months. I registered my interest and within two weeks I was having a Skype interview with a recruiter (the first interview I have ever had in my boxer shorts!). A few weeks later I was accepted. It all happened all so fast.
Was it difficult getting the paperwork and visas arranged?
The recruitment team made all the paperwork a breeze and stress free. I was expecting the process to be a lot more confusing. The hardest thing I had to do was to travel down to Sydney for the visa interview.
What was your job at Walt Disney World Resort?
I had a choice to stay in one role for 12 months or change roles after 6 months. I love variety so I opted for the two roles. For the first 6 months in Florida I worked as a host at the ESPN Club - an unreal job that allowed me to watch sports all day. The club was a bar/restaurant with over 70 TVs featuring a wide variety of sports. Every Sunday the major NFL football teams played, so the vibe in ESPN was incredible with the club filled with an array of different jerseys and shouts of excitement or disappointment depending on the team. We had fans line up out the front of the club 3 hours before we opened to get the best seat in the club. It was my job to greet guests, show them their table, assign tables, and also report on the day’s takings. I worked with a great team who always had a lot of fun with the guests.
Halfway through my stint at Disney World I began my job at Disney's Deluxe BoardWalk Resort and Villas. This was a 5-star themed resort that regularly had celebrities checking in. My role was as a front desk specialist. This involved checking guests in and out and greeting guests as they arrived. This was a great gig as the feel of the resort was awesome.
Was your accommodation included?
Employees on the Disney International College program were housed in one of three apartment complexes. I chose the complex that was known to be a lot of fun and home to some great parties. Rent was deducted out of our pay and ranged from US$80 - $125 per week, depending on the apartment type. The apartment complexes featured swimming pools, hot tubs and a gym, so they were usually a great place to hang out and unwind.
Describe a typical working day for you at Disney World.
The great thing about working for Disney was that every day was different. When I worked at ESPN I did a lot of late shifts whereas when I was working at the resort, I usually had early morning shifts. On days I finished around 3pm and would head home and see who was keen to hit up the US$3.85 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet across the road. After a good hearty American feed, everyone would usually meet at someone's apartment and plan an attack for the night. There were party buses every night of the week, which headed to downtown Orlando to experience the nightlife so that was always a good choice. Heading out on the town was extremely cheap compared to Australia.
If I was working a night shift, a group of us who had the day off would head to one of the 6 Disney theme and water parks (we had unlimited free entry to all parks). We were spoilt for choice. This was always a lot of fun riding all the rides or hitting the Disney water parks before work. Sometimes it was also good to escape the Disney bubble and venture outside to unknown territory.
Did you travel around the country?
While working in Florida, my goal was to see as much as I could in the little time I had. I was always scanning for sweet travel deals and usually was quite lucky in finding something. Some of my amazing international travel adventures included a Disney cruise to the Bahamas, a party trip to Cancun, relaxing in the sun in Jamaica, an inspiring trip to Peru as well as a cheeky trip to Canada. I took advantage of many all-inclusive packages when holidaying, which included everything and were usually so cheap.
I had previously travelled extensively around the USA on my previous visit and during my time in Florida, I had plenty more travel experiences around the country. I was regularly hitting up the Miami beaches just three hours from Orlando. This was my regular beach fix as I did find it hard living so far from the beach having lived on the beach all my life in Australia. Travelling to Panama City for Spring Break was just amazing. Just imagine a beach full of college students, world-class DJs, crazy dance parties and beer pong tournaments. My time also included many road trips around Florida and a few visits to the Big Apple.
What's your favourite memory?
Meeting my girlfriend, who I am currently living with in Australia, was definitely one of the highlights of working at Walt Disney World. I met my girlfriend, who is from Peru, while working at the ESPN Club. She was also on the Disney International College program. Another highlight was showing my parents around the USA. As it was their first trip overseas it was great to show them around. It was like taking a kid into a lolly shop. But I will never forget the memories made with the many friends I made while working for Disney. It was one of the best years of my life.
What was the biggest challenge of your trip?
One of the biggest challenges was being away from family and friends, especially when big events were happening back home. However, I was hardly homesick as I just kept telling myself to embrace the experience I was having and that I would be home soon missing the time I had in the USA. Getting used to the American wages and saying goodbye to close friends I made while at Disney was also sometimes challenging.
What's your advice for someone wanting to work in the USA?
If you’re looking at spending a year in the USA, either get yourself a cheap car or, even better, become friends with someone who has a car. This is the best way to get around and experience what America has to offer. Don’t expect to be getting wages similar to Australia. American wages are a lot lower; I earned US$8.61 an hour. However, keep in mind living costs are a lot cheaper in the States with food, booze and rent substantially lower. A carton of beer for US$15 is something I certainly miss.