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November 17, International Students Day: A reflection

File photo of DM University students protesting

We would also recommend that you spend a few minutes from your day raising awareness about International Students’ Day. You can take to social media and share some interesting information, facts, and figures with your friends, followers, and family members so that they can get on board with this day.

By Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Students are the future. These are the people and the minds that are going to take our countries forward. No matter their background or their field of study, we should always celebrate those who want to further their knowledge, with a lot of students going to great lengths to do so.

International Students’ Day is on November 17. It’s a day when we remember the bravery of thousands of students in Prague who fought for national pride and the right to higher education. In 1939, Nazi forces arrested and executed nine protesters without trial and sent over 1,200 students to concentration camps. Many did not survive. International Students’ Day commemorates their sacrifice. And while we seem worlds apart today, the right to education and peaceful protest remains a struggle in many countries. On International Students’ Day, let’s strengthen the resolve to protect the rights of our youth and support them by directing them towards the right resources such as Schoolroom — a platform providing information on scholarships and resources for acquiring education. International Students’ Day is the perfect opportunity for us to pay honor to the students of the world. From all corners of the globe, students are working hard to achieve their career goals and make a difference. Some students leave their families and travel far and wide to have a place in a university that will help them to have a better life and provide for their loved ones. This is something that we should definitely honor and celebrate. While student life is difficult for everyone, there is no denying that international students face a number of challenges. This includes homesickness, cultural differences, currency differences, financial troubles, and language barriers.

For insights into International Students’ Day, let’s first trace the events leading up to it. When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, the Third Reich staked aggressive claims over territories outside Germany’s borders. The Nazis first annexed Austria in 1938, Hitler’s home country. Next, they forced Czechoslovakia to give up parts of its territories. Germany occupied the Czech regions, forcing Slovakia to split into a satellite state.In 1939, students of the Medical Faculty at Charles University in Prague held a demonstration to commemorate the formation of an independent Czechoslovak Republic. The Nazis brutally suppressed the gathering, resulting in a student Jan Opletal’s death. Thousands of students turned up at his funeral procession – an event that transformed into an anti-Nazi demonstration. The Nazis responded by shutting down all Czech education institutions. In a shocking display of brute power, they arrested over 1,200 students and sent them to concentration camps. But the worst was yet to come. On November 17, the Nazis rounded up nine protesters, executing them without trial. Historians believe that the Third Reich allowed the funeral procession because they anticipated a violent outcome. It would give the regime the validation they needed to close down all Czech universities, dealing a severe blow to rebellion from academics and student activists. November 17 is International Students’ Day, to remember the courage of student activists during the 1939 Nazi storming of the University of Prague. The first observance took place in 1941 at the International Students’ Council in London. It was there that students decided to introduce International Students’ Day, to be observed every November 17.Since then, many organizations and international student groups have continued to observe the day. The day is a public holiday in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is formally called the “Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day.”

Whereas a lot of local students are able to fully concentrate on their studies and making new friends, international students have plenty of other barriers that they need to overcome as well. When most students are able to go home to see their family and friends, students from overseas do not have this luxury. Also, a lot of home students get financial aid in the form of loans and grants, which is not always available to those that have come from abroad. Plus, in some countries whereby living costs and wages are low, it can be a huge challenge for students to then adapt financially to a new country where it may be more expensive. All of this can put extra strain on the student’s shoulders, which is the last thing that you need when you are trying to achieve good grades. When you take all of this into account, it is not difficult to see why we should celebrate all students, especially those who have gone to great lengths in order to attain further education.

International Students’ Day is a celebration of multiculturalism, diversity and cooperation among students across the globe. Though originally a day of commemoration of the more than 1,200 students from the University of Prague whose lives were taken in WWII, International Students’ Day has become an occasion for universities the world over to boast their masses of international students, and the good they do for the local community. Students display and celebrate their acts of social responsibility and have gatherings on campus to showcase the causes they volunteer for, take part in gleeful competitions, indulge in student food, gossip about the student unions and complain about their student fees. Although decidedly not as elevated or as relevant to mankind as the activities of the forefathers of International Students’ Day, these gatherings attract a good deal of involvement, donations and attention for organizations and charities.

If you have a student at home, or if you yourself are among those who were privileged to be selected by universities to pay a fortune for courses which will most likely never be applicable to the career path you will ultimately choose, then spend this day thinking about student life, with its ups and downs, and about how you would like future generations to experience these few life-defining years. There are a number of different ways that you can celebrate International Students’ Day if you are a student yourself. You can spend some time with other students and lift one and other up. Make sure you let them know that you have noticed how much work that they have put in! It is always good to be there to support one and other. After all, you know better than anyone else the struggles that they may be going through in terms of their revision and their exam preparation. If you know any international students, it would be lovely to make an effort to make them feel at home. You could decide to put a hamper together with traditional gifts and treats from their home country. This could include different sweet treats, local drinks, and even a local magazine. Anything that you can get your hands on!

You could get in touch with their home friends and family members and ask them to put together a letter that you can put into the hamper as well. Of course, making this contact depends on how well you know the person. If you don’t know them very well and they are private, they may feel like you are prodding around in their personal life, so make sure you judge the situation appropriately. If you are a teacher, university professor, or you work with students in any way, you can use this day as the celebration that it should be. Make sure that your students feel special, and also look for ways to encourage them to be the best that they can be. You may want to look into different ways that you can help international students. For example, you could decide to be a host family? This is a family that essentially takes in a student as a member of their family for the duration of their studies. You will give them shelter, food to place, and somewhere to call their own. This can make a massive difference. Not only does it help the student in question to get established in a new environment, but it also makes the settling in process a lot more comfortable for them. When they get home after university, they aren’t going to be alone. They will have people to turn to. You can also help the student with their English and understanding the nuances of the way of life in the place that you live. You could also decide to fundraise or raise awareness for charities for students that have learning difficulties. After all, everyone should be able to have an education, yet for a lot of people, it is not that easy! Some people find it more challenging than others for a whole host of different reasons.

There are disabilities and learning struggles, yet there are also cases whereby people do not have access to education or their family life prevents them from reaching their full potential. You could spend International Students’ Day looking into the different ways that we can help these people so that they are able to get the education that they have always dreamed about. There are charities out there and volunteering your time, money, or both will be a massive help.

We would also recommend that you spend a few minutes from your day raising awareness about International Students’ Day. You can take to social media and share some interesting information, facts, and figures with your friends, followers, and family members so that they can get on board with this critical day. After all, if everyone simply posts one message or does one thing to raise awareness, students around the world will feel appreciated and we will be able to do more for those who need it most.

(Writer can be reached at [email protected])

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