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The case follows Thiago's journey, a young Brazilian from humble origins, inspired by Disney magic since childhood. After overcoming challenges, he applies for Disney's Cultural Exchange program, undergoes a rigorous selection process, and finally fulfills his dream of working for the company. However, upon joining the program, Thiago and his colleagues face challenges related to working conditions, aesthetic standards, and lack of representation. Faced with difficulties, Thiago, along with other team members, decides to voice their concerns to supervisor Stacy.

Key words: Disney, Cultural Exchange, Diversity


O texto aborda a trajetória de Thiago, um jovem brasileiro de origem humilde, inspirado pela magia da Disney desde a infância. Após superar desafios, ele se candidata ao programa Cultural Exchange da Disney, passa por um rigoroso processo seletivo e finalmente realiza seu sonho de trabalhar na empresa. Contudo, ao ingressar no programa, Thiago e seus colegas começam a enfrentar desafios relacionados a condições de trabalho, padrões estéticos e falta de representatividade. Diante das dificuldades, Thiago, juntamente com outros membros da equipe, decide apresentar suas preocupações à supervisora Stacy.

Palavras-chave: Disney, Cultural Exchange, diversidade

Where dreams come true

Walt Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Marceline (Illinois), coming from a humble and hardworking home. Before creating what would become one of the largest companies in the world, Walt dropped out of high school to enlist in the Army. After the end of the war, he returned to the United States and began working as a draftsman. Acquiring experience and improving his skills, he and his brother co-founded a dream that Walt never belieced would come true, referring to the Disney Brothers Studio, which would later become Walt Disney Productions, now the largest entertainment company in the world.

“You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world. But you need people to turn your dream into reality” – Walt Disney

Just like Walt Disney, Thiago was raised by a humble and hard-working family in Ilhéus, interior of Bahia, having two older brothers who, like him, had no expectations of growth and thought their dreams were intangible. However, Thiago and his brothers stood out from their colleagues and friends due to their perseverance, intelligence, and empathy.

During his childhood, Thiago watched the Disney films with his grandfather, which led the boy to develop a very strong emotional bond with the brand after his granddad’s death. In addition to this affective memory, the company has become an escape valve from reality, as well as a source of inspiration for conquering personal battles. Over time, Thiago began to see Disney as a professional dream and was eager to apply to Cultural Exchange. This program recruits students from more than ten countries – who are over 18 years old at the time of registration and enrolled in a regulated degree – and requires everyone to be fluent in English. Although Thiago speaks good English, he is not fluent; fortunately, he met all the other prerequisites. His only problem is that the company that carries out this process for Disney in Brazil is the Student Travel Bureau (STB), which promotes the selection process only in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Even though Thiago recently moved to the capital of his state, Salvador, to study Business, he is still far from these cities, given Brazil's continental dimensions.

The Cultural Exchange Program offers candidates a unique and enriching experience in several stages. First, interested parties must submit their application, highlighting their skills, experiences and motivations. After selection, candidates go through a rigorous interview and assessment process, in which they are evaluated on their ability to adapt to a multicultural and customer service environment. Once approved, the participants are assigned to one of Disney's properties in the U.S., where they undergo intensive training in their respective roles. During the program, members immerse themselves in a culture of learning and growth, interacting with peers from around the world while contributing to the creation of magical experiences for Disney guests. At the end of the program, participants return to their home countries with a valuable set of skills, experiences and memories that will help them excel in their future careers.

Almost there

In May, the Student Travel Bureau published the selection notice for the Cultural Exchange program. Thiago's older brother, José, who had a stable job and supported his younger brother in Salvador, saw the advertisement on the company's social media and decided to encourage his brother to participate in it. At first, Thiago felt that he would never succeed but, after much insistence from his brother, he decided to apply.

The program selection process consists of the following steps:

Selection Process Stages. Source: Developed by the authors

When registering, Thiago was afraid that he would not be able to fulfill the prerequisites listed in the registration form, considering that one of them was being able to afford the trip. Even though José demonstrated that he could contribute to the costs, Thiago was hesitant to accept his brother's help, since the price was high, but continued to enroll.

A few days after registering, Thiago received an email stating that he had been selected for the next stage of scheduling the lecture. At this point, there is no waitlist, so if the candidate tries to make the appointment but there are no more vacancies, he cannot go forward, even if there is a withdrawal from another participant. A week later, Thiago received another email designating him for the lecture that would take place in São Paulo, where he goes in the following days.

The main objective of this lecture is to explain to the participants how the program works and introduce them to Disney culture. In the next stage, Thiago was interviewed in English by an STB employee, along with two other participants. Despite all the nervousness, the process went well and Thiago was hopeful about the results and, in the next few days, Thiago received the news that he had been approved. In the same email, he received a form with questions focused on the bureaucratic part of the exchange and a request for a letter of intent to be read by Disney recruiters.

Arriving at the last stage of the selection, which consisted of an individual interview carried out at Radio Disney, in São Paulo, by the Walt Disney World Resort recruiter, Thiago was very nervous, considering how close he was to achieving his dream. Unlike last time, he was not feeling confident and had a feeling he was not going to pass.

Right after this last interview, Thiago returned to Salvador and, after 20 days of waiting, finally received the news of approval in the selection process. In order to better prepare, he decided, together with the other successful candidates, to create a group to share preparations for the trip. In this group, Thiago began to get closer with Joana and both shared their doubts, concerns, desires and expectations with each other, as the two of them were very excited for the first day.

Mulan Leaves Home

On the first day of the program, the participants were welcomed to the Disney dormitories. Thiago was left a little disappointed by the fact that, in his time participating, the dormitories were not within the Disney complex, but this did not leave him discouraged. In the first stage of the reception, they went through the Check-in process, which involves taking a photo for the dormitory card and receiving the apartment key along with a manual with instructions for living together and important information, such as possible emergency numbers.

At the end of the first day, Thiago became even more anxious, considering that by the end of the first day, he had yet to see anything Disney-related and was extremely curious about what was to come.

The following day, participants did the Onboarding, which is the process of integration with the company. They were taken to a place, where they signed the official contract and took the photos for their credentials, which grants access to areas restricted to cast members, in addition to free entry to all parks in the complex. Right after, members were directed to the Traditions training that takes place at Disney University, where they actually become cast members, earning the badge with their name on it. During Traditions, Thiago was excited, as he was finally living his dream, in addition to feeling more connected with Disney's purpose. This step made him more eager to start the last training stage before his first day of work.

The final part of the general training is called Welcome to Operations, since they are taught how to behave as a member of the cast. At this point, the Five Keys, which refer to the company's main values - namely inclusion, safety, courtesy, efficiency, and show - are taught through hypothetical practical situations, so that participants understand how they should act in each one. In addition to the Five Keys, the new cast members learn about the Disney Look, which consists in the standard code of appearance and attitude of employees, both for Costumed Cast (cast members who will be dressed as some character), as well as for the Non-costumed Cast (cast members who will not be dressed as characters). Some of the main rules Disney promotes are:

  • The use of sunglasses should be avoided whenever possible. Only glasses that allow the cast member's eyes to be visible to guests are permitted. When interacting for a prolonged period, the use of glasses must be removed.
  • Intentional body modifications must not show, including, but not limited to, visible tattoos, marks, body piercings (except traditional earrings for women), tongue piercing or splitting, teeth filing, earlobe expansion, and disfiguring skin implants. Tattoos must be discreet and completely covered. During work, jewelry, spacers, retainers or plugs in any piercing are not permitted.
  • Regarding personal hygiene, due to close contact with guests and castmates, it is necessary to take regular showers, wash your hands frequently and keep your hair clean and tidy. In addition, the use of antiperspirant or deodorant is mandatory. The use of strong and heavy scents or fragrances is not permitted.
  • Personal Electronic Devices, such as personal cell phones and other digital assistants, may not be used during working hours. These items must be hidden from view. Company-issued cell phones are permitted if they are needed for a specific business need.

After the general training, cast members are initially differentiated by their place of work. Thiago and his friend Joana were assigned to The Show Must Go On, the name given to the training at Disney's Hollywood Studios park. At this stage, they got to know the park as cast members, not as visitors. Both Thiago and Joana were very impressed with the way the park works and were excited to find out what their responsibilities would be within its logistics.

As the last days of training had passed, the roles had been distributed. Thiago was assigned the role of Custodial, whose duties are organizing and cleaning the facilities. At first, even though it was not the position he wanted, Thiago was not sad; he felt important. During training, the phrase “We are all custodials” is repeated many times by the trainers.

During their off-period, Thiago and Joana were talking about training and its prospects. Joana, who was designated the role of Character Performer, commented:

-Friend, I went to question the coach about something Stitch did. Do you remember that in the movie he licks Lilo?

Thiago replied:

-Yes, more than once, even!

Joana adds:

-I knew I wasn't going crazy. I questioned the fact that only Pluto and Bolt made licking sounds, and the only thing they told me was that it couldn't be done and it had to be a kiss. I felt a little overwhelmed, you know? We cannot give any suggestions.

Thiago thought about Joana's comment, but decided not to worry too much, as he did not want it to interfere with his experience.

We don't talk about Bruno

After all the training, it was time to start working. However, as the days went by, Thiago was not feeling as fulfilled as he thought he would be. At a happy hour with his Latino friends, who he had become closer to, they started talking about their feelings about the show.

Joana, who was one of the only two people in the group who had a role other than Custodial, began by saying:

-Wow, my back hurts, I can't bear carrying that heavy costume anymore. I went to my supervisor and he told me to take some ibuprofen. I was extremely irritated and, on top of that, I can't stand the Disney Look anymore. I no longer feel like myself. It seems like we are mischaracterized so that everyone can identify but the pressure is too much! Even with the change they made, it still doesn't meet the diversity of people we have here. But, at the same time, the phrases “We create happiness” and “Where dreams come true” kept coming to my mind and I always remembered that we are the ones who make magic happen. I feel guilty for complaining, because being here is the dream of so many people.

Marcos, the Argentinian, who played the role of Quick Service Food & Beverage, referring to the sale of food and drinks, commented:

-Wow, friend, I really get you! In my role, something that makes me furious is the amount of food wasted at the end of the day. You could donate it to some institutions or give it to us. Regarding “we create happiness”, I think we end up not caring so much about the questionable things that happen here, because we are choosing to look at the experience with the magical lens we have from the company so we end up not saying 'no' for anything, but also because we don't even have the openness to say no.

Alberto, another custodial, presented a fact that had been bothering him for some time:

-During the selection process, I checked the option that I am allergic to the vast majority of cleaning products and yet they assigned me the position of custodial, without the slightest care for me. And every time I try to complain, they think I'm lazy. Furthermore, they told me that Maria, the Mexican, had to pay extra for the accessible room she needs due to her mobility difficulties that had been mentioned on the form.

Thiago, after his friends' comments that night, remembered several small situations he had experienced in recent weeks and decided to talk to his supervisor, Stacy, who had arrived at the company 6 months ago and demonstrated being open to listening. Stacy, even though she knows that bringing these issues to a meeting might not be welcomed by other supervisors and her superiors, decides to take the complaints to the weekly team meeting.

At the meeting, Stacy presents the facts and talks about the strain caused on the team. However, the reactions of superiors when receiving criticism and points for improvement were not the best. People manager Tom said: “We’ve always done it this way, we’ve never had a problem. Our processes were well-designed and structured to always create the best experience, both for our visitors and our cast.” Hopefully, the other supervisors had also already filed other complaints that were in line with what Stacy described. She recalls this fact during the meeting, leading Tom, even though he did not seem to care much about the problems presented, to give her and her team a chance to bring a solution to the complaints.

In search of Neverland

Stacy comes from the meeting and tells the good news to her team. “Now there is very important work to be done”, referring to the creation of a more inclusive cultural exchange program without losing the Disney essence.

Questions for discussion

  1. What are the benefits of promoting diversity in cultural exchange programs? How can Disney ensure that a more inclusive cultural exchange program still preserves the values and distinctive identity of the Disney brand?
  2. In what ways can the company's culture be authentically incorporated into a more diverse environment?
  3. How can Disney implement training programs to ensure a cultural shift throughout the company, making everyone aware of the importance of inclusion and diversity? What key elements should be included in this training to create effective awareness?
  4. How can Disney adapt its attractions, activities, and programs to accommodate a broader range of cultural backgrounds without losing universal appeal? What are the main challenges of adapting Disney experiences to meet different cultural sensitivities?
  5. In what ways can Disney establish effective feedback mechanisms to assess the program's effectiveness and make continuous improvements?
Disney Cultural Exchange Program. Source:
Disney Brazil headquarters (place where ICP interviews were held). Source: Instagram (@isatanadisney)
Walt Disney World Entrance. Source:
Disney University (training site for Cultural Exchange Program participants). Source:


Cep Franco (n.d.). Disney Look Book.

Farage de Barros Gomes, I. (202). Cultural Exchange Program and Disney's Organizational Culture: What Brazilian Alumni from 2019 and 2020 Think? [Undergraduate Thesis]. University of Brasília.

G4 Education. (n.d.). Biographies: Walt Disney. G4 Education.

Institute of Leadership Formation. (n.d.). Walter Elias Disney: The Fantastic Success Story that Also Involves Many Failures. InfoMoney.

About the authors

Ana Carolina Vieira Pessoa is a graduate student from the Department of Administration (ADM/FACE) at the University of Brasília (UnB). She is a volunteer member of Casoteca. Currently pursuing postgraduate studies in Neuroscience, Consumption, and Marketing in the MBA program at PUCRS. Email:

Bianca Negri Pinheiro has an Associate’s degree in International Studies from Montgomery College (US). Currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the University of Brasília. Email:

Isabella Farage de Barros Gomes is an alumna of the Department of Administration (ADM/FACE) at the University of Brasília (UnB). She is a voluntary member of the Casoteca ADM and is pursuing a degree in Law at the Brazilian Institute of Teaching, Development, and Research - IDP. Isabella served as a Cast Member - Attractions Hostess (Nov. 2019 - Jan. 2020) and Cast Member - Merchandise Hostess (Dec. 2022 - Mar. 2023) in the Cultural Exchange Program. E-mail:

Natasha Fogaça is a professor in the Department of Administration at the University of Brasília. She holds a Ph.D., Master's, and Bachelor's degree in Administration from the University of Brasília (UnB), with a concentration in Organizational Studies and People Management. She has authored over 20 scientific articles published in various journals on people management practices, well-being at work, performance, and relationship marketing. Co-author of the books "Relationship Marketing & Consumer Behavior" and "People Management Policies in Organizations." She is one of the voices of the podcast "Pessoas e Organizações" ( Natasha has experience in the commercial and administrative areas at Brasil Telecom/Oi and as a consultant in people management for organizations in the public and private sectors. Her areas of expertise, research, and publication involve topics related to managing worker and customer satisfaction. Email:

Editor/Co-author: Luiz Henrique Lima Rodrigues is a student of Administration at the University of Brasília and Co-coordinator of Casoteca ADM. He serves as a Relationship Advisor at Concentro (Federation of Junior Enterprises of the Federal District). Email:

Editor: Nicole Alonso Santos de Sousa is an alumna of the Department of Administration (ADM/FACE) at the University of Brasília (UnB). She is the co-coordinator of Casoteca ADM. Nicole has a postgraduate degree in Finance and Controllership (MBA USP/ESALQ) and a bachelor's degree in Administration (UnB). Email:

This case was written based on secondary information and other cited references. It is not the authors' intention to assess or judge the company in question. This text is exclusively intended for study and academic discussion, and its use or reproduction in any other form is prohibited. Violation of copyright will subject the infringer to the penalties of Law No. 9.610/1998 (Brazil).

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