Dear Younger Me: My Childhood Dreams are Becoming Reality

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Arya Kirpekar
Large blue letters extended from a convention center ceiling that read: IAAPA expo. There is a large off-white column to either side of the letters.

What is your earliest memory of going to a theme park? Why was that experience memorable to you? I frequented theme parks as a kid and by the time I was old enough to understand the career choices that were in front of me, I wanted to be a “roller coaster engineer”. During my first week of college, I found out about my school’s Theme Park Engineering and Design Club and I knew I had to join. At the first meeting, we talked about our favorite theme park rides, how we would change certain ones, and even some we dreamed of creating and I felt at home right away. I had found a community of people who shared my dream. Through actively participating in this club, I learned that I could alter my previous dream into a real career in theme park design.

Making the Dream into a Reality

In November of 2022, I was presented with an opportunity to travel with the club to Orlando for the IAAPA (International Association for Amusement Parks and Attractions) expo. The first time I saw the show floor will forever be a core memory for me. Everywhere the eye could see contained booths, rides, arcade games, food stands, and more. There are no words to do it justice, so I’ll simply describe it as the most overwhelming yet invigorating room I’d ever stepped foot in. Every conversation I had and every company I met reinforced my dream of working in the themed entertainment industry. When I think about everything I learned, it all boils down to the idea that this industry is real and not just something I dreamt of as a kid. Suffice it to say, it was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life.

My Biggest Takeaways

I will forever be grateful for my experience at IAAPA, and I hope to return many more times in my life. For my first real-life introduction to the industry, I felt like I gained a much better understanding of the themed entertainment and attraction industry. Here are my biggest takeaways from the experience:

  1. Classrooms are not equal to real-life experience. I had spent two full semesters hearing about the industry and participating in small-scale activities, but, until I attended the IAAPA expo, my knowledge of the industry barely scraped the surface.
  2. Networking takes time and practice. I thought that networking would come easily to me, but I was sorely mistaken. It took me an entire day to even work up the confidence to initiate a conversation. I’m still working on finding the best ways to introduce myself, but luckily, I have plenty of time to get better at it.
  3. Let passion drive your future endeavors. This was the biggest thing I learned from the experience. Nearly every person I met was excited to talk about their position, projects, and experiences. It was evident that these people had an honest love for their work. Their openness and honesty regarding their passions was incredibly inspiring. They taught me that if I let passion drive my career, I would get much further and be happier than if I follow superficial things.

If I could relay one piece of advice that I learned from this experience, it’s that there is truth to Walt Disney’s saying, “if you dream it, you can do it.” If you have a passion for something, life is too short to give up on it without even trying. Follow your dreams and they may lead you somewhere beyond what you could have ever imagined.

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