NIC Spotlight: Disney World Study Abroad

NIC business student Vivian Vaillant took part in Disney's International Academic Exchange program. NIC is one of six Canadian post-secondary institutions to offer the program for tourism and business students. 

Working in a Disney theme park was a lifelong dream, and what drew Vivian to NIC’s business program.

While originally it was all about making magic for guests, Vivian discovered that learning about backstage Disney operations is equally magical.

“I've had businesses before," says Vivian. “What is magical about the business of Disney is that they have managed to create systems that motivate 74,000 cast members to create magic almost seamlessly across the property and all their lines of business. Being immersed in their culture has changed the way I view everything from customer service and marketing to human resource practices.”

Vivian's home park was Animal Kingdom where she felt at home amongst the lush green background and environmental efforts the park focusses on. Her time was spent in a mix between the Africa Pavilion, home of the Safari, and 4.4 light years from Earth in Avatar-themed Pandora which hosts the ever-popular Flight of Passage.

Vivian received several recognitions from the leadership for her strong ability to engage with guests. On one particular day she managed to get other guests to sing Happy Birthday out loud to 51 different people wearing the Birthday Buttons Disney gives to guests who are celebrating.

Her favourite position was called “Land Support” in Pandora. Her job was to answer questions and interact with guests using a Banshee puppet. One little girl in particular stands out as she'd been too short to ride Flight of Passage. Her sisters had gone on without her and Vivian found the sobbing child sitting with her mother.

“I remembered the time that had happened to my own daughter,” recalls Vivian. “So I took her by the hand and made her my official Junior Ranger. I showed her all the hidden magic that the Imagineers had built in to the scenery and when her sisters returned she was so excited that she had something special to show them.  It really doesn't take much to make a difference for someone. The magic goes both ways.”

While she wasn't at work Vivian managed to take advantage of several Disney University Offerings. Aside from the course load required by her host university, Vivian completed an astounding 12 Disney offerings including Disney Leadership courses, operational tours and online Harvard courses. She was even selected to participate as a project manager in the Disney Engineering Challenge where participants work together to design and pitch a new theme park area.

“I think I did more than most participants might,” Vivian admits. “That's because going to the parks as a guest lost its appeal for me very quickly. It was much more fascinating to focus on Disney as a company than Disney as an experience.”

Vivian also believes being a mature student helped her manage her time effectively. 

While the journey started as a way to work at Disney, the benefits have far exceeded Vivian's expectations.

“I started taking NIC classes just so I could work for Disney,” Vivian recalls. “What I wasn't expecting was to find out I actually love learning and I'm good at it.”

Vivian's success at NIC includes being named to the Dean’s Honour Roll and she is now entertaining the idea of completing an MBA- something she'd never considered possible for her. 

“Just think,” she grins, “it all started with the love of a mouse.”