The resort to virtual conferences due to COVID-19

  Since the Covid-19 of Corona Virus was declared as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on the 11th of March, 2020, shortly afterward many countries realized the growing danger of this fatal virus, as the mortality rate was and still skyrocketing; hundreds of thousands have lost their lives. The economic sector has deteriorated as a result of the lockdown that many governments reluctantly went on even the international aviation movement was paralyzed and towards many destinations was completely shut down leaving no chance for people to fly over. Up till now, the number of victims is approaching 1 million around the world and millions of infected struggling to survive. Some of those enormously infected numbers of people succumb to death daily as their immune system cannot resist anymore. 
Sadly, despite the fact that there are strenuous efforts being exerted by many aspects around the world either private pharmaceutical corporations or medical labs to manufacture a reliable vaccine, nothing has been scientifically proved thus far. Therefore, what I have been observing in many affected countries is indicative that what certain aspects who claim to have invented vaccine is camouflage or kind of anesthetic injections to make the grumpy masses quiet until further notice. Russia, for instance, has recently declared that some of its scientists had managed to discover an effective treatment in the labs, which was announced by President Putin claiming that the vaccine will be available in the international market soon, and also President Trump has shown up on several occasions claiming that U.S. scientists found the vaccine but they need more time to verify its results and so on with other aspects that have claimed the same. It turned out to be an arena where companies are competing over a certain product to register a patent, but there is no real patent in which people can trust for getting rid of the Corona Virus.
Media coverage to the dramatic developments of the virus put people under uncertainty, as these narratives became interwoven so that people ended up being confused even not believing in the novels of those officials, who from time to time show up announcing a new radical solution for the Covid-19 crisis. There is still an unreliable source to take seriously whether this virus will vanish soon or not especially nowadays there are rumors talk about the second wave of Corona on the way. 
This pandemic has changed all walks of life especially the economic wheel; billions of dollars have been lost as a consequence. We can see many people got their businesses shut down and then went bankrupt; millions of people lost their jobs. In this battle, the academic field did not remain peaceful; it was significantly affected as well. The campuses were shut down, classes, lectures, and seminars turned into virtual domains. Online classes are found to be the easiest way to communicate and keep the educational process running. It is an affordable method for many people; however, it turned out to be challenging for underprivileged people who do not have the financial capacities to buy internet bundles all the time. Indeed, the recent reports proved that virtual or distance education even though has been a useful sanctuary that students had to resort to, widened the gap between the privileged and underprivileged students who do not have the opportunity to catch up with the educational process if they do not internet access at their homes. I remember when I was in Cape Town and Bangkok to do my second and third semesters consecutively -to fulfill the requirements of the Global Studies Program (GSP), an exchange international masters program provided by Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg in Germany- I learned about some underprivileged students who used come to the campus not only for attending the lectures but also to take advantage of the free provided Eduroam internet service by the university. Therefore, it is imaginable how challenging the situation for them has been during the current crisis.
IARS Conference. Source: Private
Virtual education included conferences, many institutions, and universities turned to hold online conferences in order to avoid the infection and this resulted in the lockdown that restricts people's movements. Participants can not travel to different countries to take part in such events anymore. I see this transformation plays crucially in saving up the expenses that could be spent on organizing international conferences even though it might be boring because participants prefer actual attendance to discuss topics face-to-face. 
I have attended many online conferences since I was in Bangkok this year and most recently I attended three international conferences were organized by Jena Center for Reconciliation Studies (JCRS) at Friedrich-Schiller University, where I do my internship. The first one took place on Aug 9-10th on establishing a new association called the International Association for Reconciliation Studies (IARS), which was the first round. The following round came to continue the presentations done by participants from many countries around the globe; professors, thinkers, and socio-political actors in their communities within the field of reconciliation. Most importantly, this association came to bring scholars from the global north and global south for developing this academic field, which I found inspiring as it touches on the idea of globalizing thoughts as our program GSP aims to. 
The second conference was on establishing the Academic Alliance for Reconciliation in the Middle East and North Africa (AARMENA) took place on Aug 11-14th, which has almost the same agenda of developing reconciliation studies in cooperation with universities in the Arab World. I was honored to actually attend the panel discussion at both conferences with the academic staff of JCRS and also develop the new website of this center that had been done jointly with my supervisor. 
On the whole, virtual education and whatever comes under like conferences cannot be considered as an obstructive tool to the educational process but in contrast, it has been quite helpful in fulfilling the goals of this process although at some points has widened the gap between students or learners from different social classes. I could assert that virtual education is better then nothing to fend off the implications of Covid-19. 


To Jena to do my internship ... 

Who does not know the city of Friedrich-Schiller?
Who does not know the city of Carl Zeiss?

Well, I want to say honestly that I had not known Jena perfectly until I knew those great persons and the other amazing structural components in this city; the ancient architectural infrastructure that narrates a profound history that this city has passed through, industrious sites that created the legendary Carl Zeiss as one of the most known optical industry not only in Jena or Germany but also in the world over. 
Of course, the city has a lot to offer and a lot to narrate to me as I am going to stay here for three months to do my internship. Luckily, at Friedrich-Schiller University -Jena Reconciliation Center. This university was founded in 1558 and is considered one of the most prestigious universities in Germany.
Jentower - Jena/ Private
Coming from Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg to conduct this internship, I would add that I am upbeat, to begin with, new knowledge, bridging new academic friendships and understanding, and friends with the local community.
The city is quite beautiful and charming not only by its nature but also by the historical fingerprints that were created since the eve of the industrial revolution in Europe in the 18th century. Many stages this city passed through to reach this a very sophisticated era in almost all fields, especially the scientific and industrious that the Friedrich-Schiller University has contributed to significantly building this platform by generating scientists and professionals in all fields who have done their best to make Jena great again in its bright facets that I can see.
What even amazes me is the fact that how this city revived after it had passed unbearable traumas the WWII, in which it was bombed by the British and the U.S. Allied Forces, including other dynamic fluctuations occurred on the ground due to the severe political transformation that is experienced when it fell in the hands of Soviet Leadership that lasted until the giant collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s, which was the second trauma. 
This city was under a chronic recession that affected its scientific institutions like Friedrich-Schiller Uni. Therefore, scientific development relatively declined and lost much of its productivity.
Apart from that, I can imagine that this colorful experience that I can categorize into three phases as mentioned, the people finally managed to coexist with the new reality after more than four decades under the Soviet Occupation. It's imaginable the socio-cultural even psychological change that the people here went through, especially when they found themselves open to West Germany.
But, at first glance, I did not touch upon the difference, maybe being here in 2020 makes the difference blurry or unclear anymore. This can not be uncovered unless I talk to people, but I assume the current generation under this technological openness crashed this difference. 
Anyway, I am fully inspired by the city and academic, scientific, marketing, hustling-bustling components that embellished it in each corner, which I will explore. I can not wait to enjoy this experience even though we are still challenged by this pandemic Covid-19. It makes the situation precarious that it might come at anymore moment. Hopefully, the situation will be better off as I see the city right now is stable, not many infected.


I did not know that there is an institute called "Arab World Institute" in Paris 


Waiting until my third flight takes off ...

   After the Thai Royal Government declared emergency status at the end of March this year, almost the entire country went on lockdown. All stores, institutions, amusement parks shut down their gates, even the alcoholic beverages were banned to prevent gatherings. These precautionary measures aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19. 
When we received the news, the situation kind of turned upside down; our academic tasks, deadlines, and other plans went messy. Some of my colleagues in the Global Studies Program (GSP) began to back up and leave for their homelands as soon as possible. They did not want to stay and live under curfews or any other measures in Bangkok as such measures are not existent in their countries. 
I hurriedly began to prepare myself to leave for Germany too fearing that this situation might last for a longer time than expected. Therefore, I had to run and book a new flight, which was on March 24th after the one had been booked that was supposed to take place on May 12th was also canceled. 
Shortly after that declaration, I learned that most of my colleagues left for their homelands, only three remained in Bangkok, including me. There was a strong hope that my flight that was scheduled on March 24th will take off, but two days before the actual departure, I was informed that it was canceled. At the time, most of the airway companies suspended their flights from BKK Airport to other destinations in the world over except for some companies kept operating, like Lufthansa, Qataraiways, Swiss ...etc. with very few trips even a large majority of them were also canceled.  
I felt hopeless that Thailand would open up its gates again in a short time. That feeling faded away when I received information that departure from Thailand is allowed but coming to is prohibited. The journey with constant watching out flights and calling up the airport and the offices of these airlines took me even to more frustration, as they did not give me clear answers about whether a certain flight is going to fly over or not. Even the authority at BKK airport assured me that there is no confirmation on any flight only the confirmation can be given on the flight that would take off today, "tomorrow no confirmation either, you have to wait until tomorrow, the flight after tomorrow we are unsure though, you have to wait until tomorrow." 
I found myself accepting the fact that "just leave everything as it is." But sometimes I attempted to resist this fact; there are many plans back in Germany, what the consequence of calling them off? What about my legal status in the German Federal Republic as a residency holder not allowed to overstay abroad? Shall I go back to my country Palestine? Would Israelis allow me to travel back to Germany again? But, the country there began taking serious steps for thwarting the spread of Covid-19. 
Indeed, later on, the news was received that Israel and Palestine entirely went on lockdown as the positive examination of some Corona cases were discovered in the Palestinian Bethlehem city, the first place to have gone through the infection of Corona. As a result, both sides blocked down the borders and internally shut down all institutions and stores and enforced curfews. 
Under this uncertainty, I learned either million of people around the globe going through this unpredictable situation where no choice just to subject to the preventive measures that are imposed by the governments. That was the only solution for eliminating that virus that showed the world malicious intentions of killing more people mercilessly. Therefore, the bell of danger rang indicating that a potential catastrophe is going to occur as the casualties overstepped 300 thousand in many countries, especially in Europe, including approx. 4 million confirmed cases.  
I don't know if Corona crisis can be called "Apocalypse" at this stage or not yet, but it reminded the world of the "Black Death" event that took place between 1374-1352 when the "Black Plague" hijacked the lives of almost third of the population in Europe, approximately 75 to 200 million died. I do not want to predict that outcome or the world would go through the same experience and neither want to see our charming world plagued as such.  
Day in and day out, I decided to stay for a month or more until further notice in Bangkok after renewing my visa at the immigration office. So during this period, I have learned about many stories of people, some I met with here in Bangkok, are stuck in different countries as a result, even in Thailand cannot fly back to their homelands because airports have gone on complete lockdown and how they are struggling with living in a foreign country where they had not planned to live for a while more than they had planned. Under this pandemic, they are challenged by many obstacles; they are financially challenged as their budget covers their accommodation for the scheduled period to stay in a foreign country. They consequently are in a challenging situation where they should be careful with managing their budget. I heard that some resorted to their embassies for filing their cases, but I have no idea if any has worked out. 
For me also, I began grappling with the travel agency, with which I had booked my flight tickets. It pushed me to call up their office in the USA, which was costly as I used my local number in Bangkok. After long talks, I managed to sort out the reimbursement matter for the two flight tickets on April 20th. But I have not gotten refunded up till now despite was promised by the travel agency that after two weeks, the money will be received back. It's quite understandable that these agencies are under heavy pressure sorting out enormous refund requests by clients around the world whose flights have been canceled. 
Hopefully, my next flight will take off and leave this amazing Thailand safely and healthy. This what I could say thus far ... 

 My student told me ...