Warrior Words: How I learned that Wilton is not like the real world

Although much can be said about Wilton, the town lacks one characteristic in particular: diversity. Throughout my 18 years in Wilton, Connecticut, I have found that all of my friends and I have similar family backgrounds and similar family traditions. This isn’t to say that homogeneity is a negative.
Humans tend to align themselves with those who share common interests and beliefs to their own. However, as this year rapidly approaches an end, I have come to an important realization. My next four years will be in an entirely unfamiliar place with people from across the world. To some degree, I feel ashamed at my lack of diverse experience. Although I have learned a great deal from my hometown, I have failed to understand how the “real world” operates outside of my tiny bubble.
This past summer I interned at Connecticut Legal Service (CLS) in Stamford — a pro bono law firm that offers free legal aid. During this time, I was exposed to what diversity really looks like. To be quite frank, I find it upsetting that I consider my time at CLS to be “eye-opening.” I found it depressing that for the first time in my life I understood the drastic implications of socio-economic barriers. Everything that I learned at the firm seemed so new and foreign, but for everyone else this was a reality. Whenever someone new entered I felt that my ironed slacks and J. Crew button-down made me appear entitled or spoiled. I felt embarrassed when I was unaware of the population of people who used food stamps or what public housing was.
Although I couldn’t fully empathize with these people, I recognized that growing up in a small, affluent town greatly reduces perspective. For most of my life it was easy to live inside the little, air-tight bubble of our town. I was safe wherever I went, I never worried about where my next meal was coming from, and I had a roof over my head. What I had known to be the most fundamental components of my life were some of the most challenging obstacles that people needed to surmount and find solutions to in order to live from day to day.
Sitting behind the reception desk I witnessed people of all different backgrounds pour into a small waiting room, and vehemently thank me for allowing them to write their name and phone number down on a sign in sheet. Filing reports I would read how minimum-wage workers were cheated of their compensation when they were injured or how their SNAP benefits were being withheld unfairly. However, I can’t say that my time at CLS was revolutionary. I didn’t save lives or really impact the firm as a whole. My time consisted mainly of sorting through papers, answering the door, and the occasional coffee run.
What I can say for sure is that I came to an important realization about perspective. In this short period of time I was exposed to problems that I had never imagined before, problems that most people in Wilton would never have to face. Although this realization was not some epiphany or my way of saying that I understood the struggles of others, I was able to gain a minute amount of insight into the lives of others, insight that I would have never gained in my hometown.
Tyler Zengo is a senior at Wilton High School. He shares this column with five classmates.