Waikato student returns from ‘Happiest Place on Earth’

26 February 2018

University of Waikato student Celeste Richards.

Celeste Richards has just returned to New Zealand after living every kid’s dream. The University of Waikato student took up an internship at Walt Disney World in Florida and she says she loved each and every day of it.

With one final presentation to give to the Waikato Management School next week, Celeste will have completed the requirements of her degree. Officially struck by the travel bug she then heads to Europe in April so will graduate in absentia with a degree in Tourism Management.

Celeste took up the internship in January 2017 through the Disney International College Program. Initially, she planned to head home in July but extended her contract until January this year. She worked as a Character Performer, spending her days dressed as one of the world-famous Disney characters and interacting with guests. She prepared for the role at Disney University, where she completed the Disney Traditions course. “Working for a giant global corporation was an experience unlike anything else I’ve done in my life so far. It was a fantastic learning curve,” she says.

Whether working, attending classes like strategic marketing, playing in the theme parks or adventuring outside of the Disney ‘bubble’, Celeste could barely believe the amount of fun she had. “I had at least one moment every day where it was surreal just to be there. I couldn’t believe that this was actually my life!”

Yet tourism wasn’t originally in Celeste’s career plan. When she studied at the Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland, she thought she’d study law, but a student exchange in Argentina changed her mind. “I fell in love with a different culture, language, and kind of people. I discovered a new found passion for travel in a deeper sense,” she says.

When Celeste arrived home for year 13, she applied for a Bachelor of Tourism (now part of Bachelor of Business) at the University of Waikato. “The lectures aren’t overly-full, so there’s great opportunities to get to know your lecturers and peers on a personal level. You get a sense of family that I don’t think you’d have at other universities.”

From day one she fell in love with the Waikato experience and all the opportunities on offer, jumping at the chance to be a Residential Assistant, Tutor, Student Ambassador, Student Administrator and Class and Faculty Board Representative. “I am Waikato proud!” boasts Celeste.

Encouraged by first and second year lecturers, Charlie Panakera and Professor Alison Mckintosh, Celeste enrolled in the Disney internship and never looked back. She encourages other students interested in the programme to get involved. “The benefits are incredible but do be prepared for long hours. Our Kiwi can-do attitude goes a long way. Put your all out there, and it will be received well!”