There are some things in life that shape how we understand things: the media, books, friends and family….how we view the world can be shaped by outside sources and can be formed in really warped ways. I for instance, had always associated Sweden with ABBA….my image of the country was based on what I knew, thanks to Ikea, ABBA, and ….Ikea.

Although it’s very important, in my opinion, to push these preconceived misconceptions asside, I have to admit it can be really difficult. As little as I knew about Oslo, or Norway for that matter, there was always one thing that shaped the city in my mind, and it all came back to my college days, where I spent many a evening in the library attempting to study as I listened to music. One song often came on my iPod, because it was a monotonous, heavy rythm, which fit in perfectly with my political science readings. A song titled, “Oslo in the Summertime,” written by the lead singer of one of my alltime favorite eccentric bands, Of Montreal. His image of his time spent in this city was placed in the lyrics of the song, talking of the hot, slow summer days where the sun never sets and everyone “is away on holiday.” I wondered what kind of place this Oslo would truly be.

Oslo turned out to be a new and improved city from whatever it was before. As evidence from the construction sites scattered across the city, the new architecture wowed everyone of us, especially the architecture student in our group. We were all glued to the extremely reflective and enticing Opera house, a completely glass structure overlooking the sea with a modern style that made it scream out “photograph me, I’m gorgeous!” The sunshine along with 5 marching bands outside made it even better, with light being bounced from the building to the brass instruments, blinding everyone in sight. I suppose the Norwegians had to invest all of their money somewhere.

The city itself was much nicer than everyone claimed it would be, and the gardens were spacious with plenty of interesting stone sculptures to check out. With such nice weather, we were tripping over tourists right and left, but it didn’t matter too much, because we had some locals, friends from Fredi’s travels, showing us around their favorite haunts, and explaining the sights. As we wandered across the wealthy “Beverly Hills” of Oslo, we became even more aware of how well off Norway seemed to be. “It hasn’t always been this way,” explained our guide Julia, “Norway had its tough times too. But now that we have all of that oil, we are doing quite well.”

Fortunately the splendors appear to be shared with everyone, unlike many oil countries, where only a few benefit. Julia and Ingvild explained that every student in Norway is given a stipend to help them pay for their living expenses as they study. In other words, they get paid to go to college. “I think in a way that makes us more independent from our parents,” explained Ingvild. “We don’t have to live at home, and we don’t have to ask them for money. We can take care of ourselves much earlier.” An interesting concept, which would seem bizarre in many countries, especially in Europe. And no student loans? That would make almost any American student crazy with jealousy.

It was important for us to spend some time in the capitol, and ask our questions to the locals. A burning question that had been on the tip of my tongue was finally answered. The difference between Norwegians and Swedes? According to many of my sources, the stereotype goes, that Norwegians are more connected to nature, and are more down to earth. This is probably due to their significantly smaller population, and smaller cities. I could definitely believe it when I looked at my friends, who although seemed very stylish, I could imagine them backpacking their way through a forest, enjoying the dirt and bugs and all. And of course, they had, and enjoyed every moment of it, something in their looks far off in the distance, away from their trendy and modern Oslo.