Immersing yourself in a new culture, even one in many ways similar to your own, takes a lot of energy and interior space for this introvert. It's different from tourist-ing; living in it rather than on top of it or around it - rubbing shoulders and sharing bathrooms gets me much closer. Rather than looking theough the fishbowl I am one of the fish, looking out and seeing, from the locals' perspective.
Living this way for more than a day or two makes it more difficult to hide from the poverty, oppression, and neglect. But as I've felt and embraced I've also been exposed to the tender beauty deep inside the culture's tenderness. The side you see only from the inside.
As a part of my funded Kickstarter campaign for Epiphany:Visio, my husband and I have been traveling around Vermont and now Montreal, Canada. Attempting to be cheap and trendy we booked our lodging through AirBnB.com, and we chose a place to stay where we are sharing an apartment with two lovely people who've been great hostesses to us - letting us use their laundryroom and espresso machine.
Staying with these lovely people this week, for me, has humanized a culture it would have been easy to "fishbowl." I'm not interacting primarily with people who are paid to make sure I'm comfortable and see only the bright shining city (like I would in a hotel). I'm rooming next to a person who laughs, cooks dinner, and goes to work, and comes home tired. It's difficult to not feel the city's soul when you're living with its people.
And in feeling its soul I'm finding its beauty, not apart from the graffiti and littered alleyways, but in their midst.