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College students from Utah and the Soviet Union may begin trading places some day, thanks to a delegation of state officials who recently returned from a trip behind the Iron Curtain.

The trip also helped some Utah business leaders start relationships they hope eventually will lead to deals with Soviet interests - provided that country continues opening its society to foreigners.Lt. Gov. Val Oveson led the delegation of 45 Utahns, who were guided through major Soviet cities and regions. Participants paid their own way. No government funds were used.

Norm Gibbons, dean of students at the University of Utah, said he talked with Soviet officials at the Institute of Foreign Languages about setting up exchange programs between U.S. and Soviet students.

Although reforms are happening quickly in East bloc countries, Gibbons is cautiously optimistic about the possibility of student exchanges in the near future.

"I'm not sure how much will come of it," he said of his talks with Soviet officials. "There are a lot of issues to be worked out."

Chief among those issues is finances. Because the Soviet's ruble is not traded on the open market, it has no tangible value. That is the chief problem most U.S. business leaders have to face if they want to deal with Soviet customers.

Oveson said the hotels in which the delegation stayed were surrounded daily by Soviet citizens wanting to trade up to 15 rubles for a dollar. Considering the practice is illegal, such a scene was a remarkable indication that Soviet society is changing, he said.

The Soviet government, which artificially sets the value of the ruble, was offering 1.62 rubles to the dollar when the delegation arrived, but had changed the rate to six rubles per dollar when the group left a few days later, Oveson said.

Soviet citizens are extremely interested in the outside world, but the country's economy is a long way from thriving in the open world market, he said.

"They are venturing into an area they have no understanding of," Oveson said. "But they know they want it. That country has got to go through hell. Distribution channels will be thrown topsy-turvy in a free market."

He said the delegation perceived the Soviet economy was in shambles. Americans bought cartons of Marlboro cigarettes to use as tips in stores and restaurants. The cigarettes were considered more valuable and desirable than Soviet money.

Gibbons said Soviet students were congenial and appeared anxious to consider exchanges.

"They also are very interested in American life," he said.