COVID-19 closure leaves Disney interns heartbroken

As COVID-19 struck the United States, Disney World, along with Disneyland and all Disney resorts, closed its doors to the public for only the third time in recorded history, sending their internship participants home early. 

The Disney College Program is an opportunity for college students around the world to intern for Disney, one of the most powerful companies in the world according to Forbes, with a brand value of $19 million. These students have the opportunity to work inside the theme parks and resorts and live in Disney residence halls designated just for them. 

“The Disney college program taught me personally and professionally how to be more responsible, patient, and respectful,” said Logan Kusinitz, a former intern.

Many students like Kusinitz apply to this very selective program to build their resume, get exposure, and live away from home. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, internship participants had their term ended early since Disney closed in March 2020. Disney also canceled the following internship program scheduled to begin in May, announcing the news with a statement on their social media platforms.

“Given the uncertainty of the times, we still believe the right thing to do is to encourage everyone to return home. Similar to the way college and university programs are prioritizing social distancing, we made the difficult decision to suspend these programs, based on guidance from local, national, and international health agencies,” the statement read. 

This announcement left many excited students heartbroken as they were forced to pack their bags months early and leave their internships. This experience is one that some students look forward to for as long as they can remember and since the program allows many students to create close bonds with peers, internship participants found it very saddening to suddenly say goodbye.

Disney College Program Interns from Spring 2019 Term poses for a group photo while on shift for the Star Tours attraction in Hollywood Studios. (Logan Kusinitz)

Some students have been feeling conflicted about returning home after losing their shot at their dream internship. 

“It definitely wasn’t light news to take, I have been having some family issues at home and interning for the Disney College Program provided me some relief since I got to experience living away from home for the first time,” said Alexis Sanchez, an intern from Florida International University. “The quick and sudden transition to come back was definitely not easy. I really do miss it since I felt more at home over there.” 

Others felt a sense of loss from losing the opportunity to see their hard work through to completion.

“The hardest part about leaving my internship early was not being able to finish projects that I had spent the first half of my internship contributing to,” intern Rebecca Bailey said. “These projects have now been paused indefinitely due to the coronavirus, so it is disheartening to know that their effects may not reach guests at Disney for a very long time, and once the projects get the green-light again, I will no longer be a part of them.”

However, not all students are feeling upset about the cancelation. Since this internship is only meant for those who are currently enrolled in a college or university, many students take online classes while completing their long shift hours. Balancing a full-time internship position with demanding classes, along with completing day-to-day necessities such as buying groceries, doing laundry, cooking and preparing their meals can be pretty overwhelming. 

“I loved my short time at the Disney College Program,” said Carlos Rodrigues, another student from Florida International University. “However, as much as I was saddened I was leaving the very nice people I met there, I was also a bit relieved since I started to struggle in school because of how little time I had to study since I was working and barely had enough time to sleep.” 

Students with situations like Rodrigues’ are not uncommon, and there have been a few reports of students dropping the Disney College Program after realizing that it was too much for them. 

Disney College Program interns strike a pose with character: Woody. (Rebbeca Bailey)

As heartbreaking as Disney’s closing maybe for its interns, it is also a very rare occurrence. There is a popular saying that “when Disney closes, it must be a pretty big deal.” Walt Disney has closed its parks and resorts to the public only three times in recorded history. The assassination of John F. Kennedy marked the first closure, followed by the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and now March 14, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the nation.

Vivian Desme is a Florida International University student majoring in Broadcast Journalism and minoring in E-Marketing Analytics. She enjoys exploring new places in order to gain knowledge from the world’s different cultures, history, and stories.