Iceland’s president urges continued relations with U

Elizabeth Dunbar

The president of Iceland met and exchanged business cards with University faculty members and administrators Friday, expressing his goal of continued relations between the University and Iceland.

President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson said he hopes the University will take advantage of new opportunities for study in Iceland.

“We’ve tried to modernize our approach to foreign students studying in Iceland,” Grímsson said, adding many courses in Iceland are now offered in English. “We’d like to continue the dialogue and cooperation.”

For 20 years, Iceland and the University have exchanged students through the Valbjornson Scholarship, which was named after a former Minnesota state treasurer originally from Iceland. In addition, several faculty members have collaborated with students and researchers from Iceland.

“This university has trained people in Iceland who have assumed very important positions in society,” said Thorunn Bjarnadottir, who came from Iceland in 1984 to study at the University.

Now a coordinator for the University Culture Corps program, Bjarnadottir said she hopes to continue working with teachers from Iceland on student disciplinary issues.

“Some of the problems there are here now, we know will come up in the future in Iceland,” she said.

James Parente, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said professors in the German, Scandinavian and Dutch department worked with people from Iceland a few years ago to develop an Icelandic course.

“It was truly a collaboration because the people who taught the class came from Iceland, and the students ended up going to Iceland for three-and-a-half weeks at the end,” Parente said.

Grímsson said two areas of study the University should take advantage of pursuing in Iceland are Nordic studies – including areas such as arctic biology – and the role of small states in world politics.

Iceland’s development from a disadvantaged country into one of the most affluent countries in the world has shown the importance of small states, Grímsson said.

“Having come through a social and economic evolution, we recognize the role of small states in the world,” he said. “Surprisingly, they have not been studied in a systematic way.”

A center for small states was established in Iceland recently, Grímsson said, which allows other countries to help develop this new field of study.

With a population of less than 300,000, Iceland is one of the world’s small states that will play an important role in international issues like human rights and global climate change, Grímsson said.

“I think the importance of small states will increase as the number of small states has increased,” he said.

Gene Allen, director of the Office of International Programs, said the unique experience of meeting with the president of another country showed him Iceland’s size creates opportunities for working directly with the University.

“I think it really confirms the issue of smallness,” he said. “I think what came up today are some great possibilities for expanding our relationship with Iceland.”

Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]