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Student Spotlight: Aly Schwartz


Hello! My name is Aly and I’m a junior from Chapel Hill, North Carolina majoring in Marketing and Management with minors in Spanish and Art Studio. While touring colleges in high school, I was instantly drawn to the South Carolina Honors College because of its commitment to thinking outside the box and challenging oneself in new and exciting ways.

The college’s supportive environment enabled me to participate in the internship of my dreams, the Disney College Program, during my spring semester of 2016. I’d had my eye on this internship at Walt Disney World ever since my older sister participated in it four years before me, and every one of her stories about guest interactions and personal growth had me counting down to the day I could finally apply. When I heard back about my acceptance to the program in September 2015, I was ecstatic! Both the advisors in the Honors College and the USC Career Center helped me to get everything squared away for my semester away from campus.

In January of 2016 I packed my bags and headed to Florida to begin my new journey. I checked in, met my roommates (all students from across the nation participating in the same internship), and received my role assignment. That was when I found out that I would be working at a ride in Disney’s Animal Kingdom called Kilimanjaro Safaris, a popular attraction where guests load on a safari truck and see real African animals like giraffes, zebras, elephants, and more. The role of an Attractions hostess entails normal ride operations (loading, unloading, greeting guests, etc.), but the most important part of my role was giving the safari tours.

Now, if you told me a year ago that I was going to be driving a 36-person truck while entertaining guests with 22-minutes worth of spieling on repeat, I would’ve laughed in your face. I still get nervous driving my tiny sonata down the interstate, and public speaking had always made me uncomfortable; how was I supposed to monitor and entertain dozens of people while driving around free-roaming exotic animals?

With the help of some amazing trainers, I learned how to drive on the reserve and memorized pages worth of animal and conservation facts. In the blink of an eye, I was giving tours all on my own. Over time, I slowly started to notice changes in myself as a result of my work.  My self-confidence grew and I found myself changing up my spiel more frequently, often times forming connections with the guests on my truck and incorporating them into the action. I also found that I trusted my decisions and myself more; with the unpredictability of real life animals, it was imperative to be quick on my feet and fully alert at all times. This level of independence pushed me to let go of my fear of messing up and take responsibility.

While I never knew for sure what each safari would entail, I learned to embrace the unpredictability factor. Some days an ostrich would sit in the middle of the road for ten minutes and I would scramble for something to say to my guests, or a giraffe would take serious interest in my truck, or the ankole cattle’s horns would get really close to the road and I would have to decide whether or not it was clear to proceed. Other times guests would ask difficult questions, or I would lose track of my thoughts and say something completely random over the microphone (like the time I said the greater flamingo had a jaw power of 2,000 pounds per square inch… yikes!).

As a Marketing and Management major, it’s likely that I will not be encountering ostrich stops or giraffe crossings in my future career. However, the skills and experiences I earned working at Disney World are invaluable. I learned how to better communicate with people, how to work both on a team and independently, and how to makes decisions confidently and carry through with them. I also learned that I have a passion for working with people, so I now want to incorporate that in one way or another with my career goals.

In fact, I loved the guest service aspect of my job so much that I applied to extend my internship through the summertime as a Vacation Planner, and was thrilled to be accepted. In this role, I assisted guests with park and ticket concerns and made sure they had the “best fit” ticket package for their trip. I learned so much about customer service and effective communication from my two months in this role, but I know I wouldn’t have been nearly as confident in it if it were not for my experience with Kilimanjaro Safaris.

I left Disney World at the end of July feeling ready to take on the next big adventure. This is not to say that I no longer get nervous or hesitant about trying new things; for instance, this upcoming spring semester I will be studying abroad in Spain, and I feel both excited and terrified! However, because of Disney I now know it’s always worth it to try the new things despite the fact that they may be challenging or frightening. I try and remember to apply this thinking to my everyday life as a student in the Honors College, whether it’s a rigorous honors course or brainstorming for my senior thesis or looking ahead to the next professional internship. Maybe it’s all that time spent around magic and pixie dust, but in my eyes, the sky is the limit.