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 Scholaroo — a platform providing information on scholarships and resources for acquiring education.
History of International Students Day
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.”
International Students Day timeline
In Prague, the Nazi forces violently suppress a student gathering to celebrate the anniversary of independent Czechoslovakia.
The Nazis execute nine protesters without a trial on November 17.
Led by several refugee students, the International Students’ Council in London marks the first International Students’ Day.
On November 17, the Greek military junta crushes the Athens Polytechnic by storming the gates of the university.
International Students Day FAQs
What is International Students Day?
November 17 is International Students’ Day. The day commemorates the courage of student protestors in Prague. On this day in 1939, Nazi forces executed nine protestors (eight students and one professor) without trial. They also arrested over 1,200 students and sent them to concentration camps.
What are the benefits of being an international student?
International students have a global outlook since they encounter multiple perspectives and therefore multiple possibilities. Studying in international universities helps students see the world and meet people with diverse interests.
What does November 18 celebrate?
National Naturopathy Day. Observed in India, the day celebrates and seeks to promote positive mental and physical health through Naturopathy, a drugless system of medicine.
How to Observe International Students Day
Organise events at your university
International Students' Day is a reminder not just about the power of the youth but also about the strength of diversity. Encourage your university to organize events that celebrate multiculturalism. Bring different groups together for an engaging day of discussion, film, music, and art from around the world.
Talk about it
Spread the word in your circles. Share resources and information on social media. The more people you can reach, the better.
Chat with someone new
Walk over and introduce yourself to an exchange student or a new student in the class. Maybe even invite them home for dinner. There’s nothing like a personal connection to break stereotypes and preconceived notions.
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M.I.T. students can technically become pirates
M.I.T. students who complete sailing, pistol, fencing, and archery classes can officially receive a pirate’s license.
The world’s largest scavenger hunt
The University of Chicago holds an annual four-day scavenger hunt, complete with a 200-mile road trip, cryptograms, challenges, and a three-course meal.
Why International Students Day is Important
Never take things for granted
Today we’re reminded about the privilege of education and the importance of dissent. It inspires us to keep asking the big questions, no matter the consequences.
A celebration of youth
Students are tomorrow’s leaders, thinkers, creators, and moral centers. Higher education helps everyone make a difference in their own lives and the world. International Students’ Day celebrates young people and their rights to education.
The importance of student activism
It’s a day that commemorates student activism. Throughout history, student-led activism has challenged the authority of fascists and despots. Student-led events at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Prague’s Velvet Revolution, or the protests at India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University will forever inspire generations to come.
International Students Day dates