Unlikely union reaping rewards

THEY sit at opposite ends of the world, but it's the similarities between Tasmania and Iceland that have brought two universities together.

Icelandic medical students Katrin Hjaltadottir, Sigrun Benediktsdottir, Einar Ingason and Asa Thordardottir have been at Burnie's rural clinical school for two weeks, as part of a two-month exchange that will also see them spend time at Launceston General Hospital.

Meanwhile, three University of Tasmania students are braving minus-degree temperatures, snow, and limited sunlight as they study at the Iceland's university hospital at Reykjavik.

UTAS associate professor of rural and remote health Peter Arvier initiated the exchange after noticing the similarities between Tasmania and the Nordic island country.

``Between Tasmania and Iceland we have similar universities and elective attachments, a similar population, a similar land area and health system, and a similar practice in rural medicine,'' Dr Arvier said.

``We also have a similar climate close to the poles, and the countryside we live in is very alike.''

The resemblance has made the transition quite easy for the Icelandic students, who already speak English fluently.

``It's a nice adjustment not to have to put on big coats in the morning and woolly socks and good shoes, it's like summer at home,'' Ms Thordardottir said.

``People are kind of surprised we speak English, but everybody learns English in school. 

``And our text books in medical school are all in English, because it doesn't really pay off to translate them for 50 students each year.''

Dr Arvier said he hoped the relationship would eventually lead to staff exchanges and shared research projects between the two universities.

He said he was seeking out other similar destinations for exchanges, including the Canadian island of Newfoundland.

jstephens@examiner.com.au or twitter @jodiestephens1 

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