Late 2017 I received a confirmation that I had been granted a fellowship for the ICANN community meeting in Puerto Rico March 10-15 2018. I was so exhilarated that I told everyone I know, I'm going to #Despacito land.
I know what you're thinking, you're probably saying: "Ah, the beautiful Puerto Rico, beaches, parties and sunsets." Well, I agree with you there, Puerto Rico is fantastic, the beaches, the parties, and the sunsets, but, that's not what my trip goals were! I'll go into details in the following post of my experience as an ICANN fellow.
Welcome to the Fellowship.
It all started when I received the acceptance email; I was stunned, as it was the third time I apply to no avail. And of all ICANN meetings,
Puerto Rico? Summertime during my winter time, that was heaven!
Shortly after receiving the acceptance, the explanatory emails started to arrive, and such long emails with so much explained, I was dreaming letters in my sleep. Remembering in the middle of the day sometimes, "Did I read all that email? Or is there anything I missed, let me check again." The long - and very well explained to be fair - emails from Siranush Vardanyan our Fellowship Program Manager provided us all the needed steps before we jump on a plane, and what to do when we land. Travel Constituency team helped us prepare our flights and book our hotels as well as coordinate any needed accommodations requests.
We were signed up to online courses by ICANN, which is something they've done for only two fellowships so far, these video courses helped me find out so much about what the organization stood for, the structure and some of its functions.
All of this is very cool and exciting. But nothing, and I mean Nothing!!! Prepared us for the Acronyms.
I arrived at our hotel, a beautiful resort by the beach called La Concha Renaissance Hotel. Checked my bags in and had shared a taxi from the airport with some fellows, we were an immediate group, and since arrival day was a no conference day, we spent it riding bikes and trying exotic food, like Mofongo and Plantine, and what is that? Fried pig skin, yes I'll try it, yum!
After we settled down that day and met so many people from fellowship newcomers to coaches to coordinators, staff and board members, we ended the day by the pool sharing stories and getting to meet more fellows who arrived later that day.
#GNSO #ALAC #NOMCOM #DNS, Root Servers and the Board Meeting Lunch
We kicked off the first day with the fellowship meet and great, where we all got acquainted with each other officially and learned about each person's goal in attending the meeting.
As I am someone interested in securing the internet and everything that stems from that, my first session was attending the DNS fundamentals session, where it took us back to basics and brought us to now life applications on what DNS's are all about in our daily life, and on a higher professional breakdown.
We then moved on to meet the board of ICANN for lunch, as a newcomer, this was very exciting for me! During this lunch, ICANN board members took part in taking the podium to introducing themselves as well as mentioning multiple issues facing ICANN and their recommended approaches. Our most important one, was the fellowship continuity, I didn't know the fellowship was in trouble? What? How can I help? How can WE help as newcomers!!!
The following days to follow were the calm before the storm! You place 60+ fellows, previous fellows, and coaches in one room, and you tell them this program that got them together might end up decreased in size, things were about to get more exciting than what we originally signed up for!
In the afternoon of that day, I went on naturally to attend my sessions, one of my most memorable meeting was that of " How it Works: Internet Networking" with Alain Durand, the most interactive and easy going session I've ever attended, with so much information given.
After attending one more session, the day concluded after that for. As ICANN made no plans for that night, a bunch of the fellows went out to a place called La Placita, where we danced through the night and had fantastic food, and YES, you don't need to ask, we danced to Despacito!
[DNS: Domain Name Servers]. What? Did you think I'm going to leave you without explaining what the acronyms are?
[ccNSO: Country Code Name Supporting Organization]
[GNSO: Generic Names Supporting Organization]
[ALAC: At-Large Advisory Committee]
[NOMCOM: Nominating Committee]
[DNS: Domain Names Service]
#NCUC #GAC #SSAC #TLD #gTLD #ccTLD #DNSSEC
Day 2 begun by watching the early sunrise, as I was still jet-lagged from the 6 hours difference. After breakfast, I headed with the fellows to the conference, and the first thing I remember that day was a whiteboard in the fellowship booth, for the ICANN ACRONYM GAME!!!! It had finally arrived, that day I dreaded, I don't know all the acronyms! What do I do?
The answer to that is simple; the game is there to help you know the names and test you on the ones you know, make sure to play it if you're ever a newcomer, especially if you have sweet booth coordinators such as Ines Hfaiedh and Nasrat Khalid. Those two made everyone's life so much easier, primarily by giving away international power adapters! They saved my dying batteries.
Today's sessions were some of the most interesting through the conference; I remember telling a fellow friend at the end of the day, that I've learned in these two days more than I have in the past year. Which is entirely correct, consider this, ICANN is a crash course in everything internet, and if you focus enough, this information is all you need to begin.
We took on the ICANN Academy Working Group, and then jumped to newcomers day event, an introductory all-day event for all newcomers to ICANN. The DNSSEC for Everybody: A Beginner's Guide session, as GDPR and DNSSEC were hot topics during this meeting.
Following that, fellows only networking event by ICANN was prepared, and we all attended it, we then also went to a party at the Antiguo Casino De Puerto Rico by Verisign, which was a blast, where we watched local bands play and met people who you wouldn't normally interact with during the conference. These get togethers, were the ice breakers you never knew you needed.
We concluded the night, as fellows by the pool in our hotel, talking fellowship and sustainability and what is our role in all of this? Little did we know, that we would be starting a movement, that engaged everyone from newcomers to board members.
Exciting No? Wait and read! Also watch the video in the end!
[NCUC: Noncommercial Users Constituency]
[GAC: Governmental Advisory Committee]
[SSAC: Security & Stability Advisory Committee]
[TLD: Top Level Domains]
[gTLD: Generic Top-Level Domain]
[ccTLD: Country Code Top-Level Domain]
[DNSSEC: Domain Name System Security Extensions]
#GDPR #WHOIS #IG, The Welcome Ceremony, and The Gala
Day three was exhilarating, we learned about GDPR and the conversation going around it. I understood more about GDPR than I did reading about it since mentioned last year. I would like to consider myself someone who is now able to explain GDPR to newcomers at least, which is miles from where I was before ICANN61.
I took on so much information; my notebook was bleeding words and diagrams. I jumped from the ceremony to TechDay, then after lunch to How It Works: Understanding DNS Abuse and then to the Public Forum, a forum that was so crucial in our week of the conference as fellows. Some ideas were tossed there about everything ICANN, and mainly about the fellowship budget cuts! We decided then that we need to take action, and the next open forum was in two days! Hence, we needed to be prepared, we grouped ourselves and decided that tomorrows fellowship lunch session, is to come up with a paper that helped the fellowship and gave promising information to the board to adopt the no cut for fellowship.
After a long day, we all headed towards the Gala at the Bahia Urbana. A magical green place with music and food and happy people, we ate and sang and danced for a couple of hours, then headed towards doing some work on the plan to save the fellowship.
[GDPR: General Data Protection Regulation]
[WHOIS: WHOIS isn't an acronym, though it may look like one. In fact, it is the system that asks the question, who is responsible for a domain name or an IP address?]
[IG: Internet Governance]
#SSAC, the ICANN WIKI Editathon, and Party with a purpose
For me, this was a long day, one of the longest I've had as I was coming down with something, I took some meds and just marched on to the conference to attend SSAC sessions, as mentioned, I am interested in the security part of the internet and the SSAC is the best place to go to for this knowledge.
During that day there was the ICANN wiki edit-athon, which was a fun exercise, I was proud to have been able to contribute to editing the ICANN wiki website in adding a feature, and adding my wiki page. For that, I received a badge that had me as an illustration!
I learned so much that day on everything security that I decided I'm going to join the SSAC, which is not an easy task as they don't usually take on volunteers since it's a technical committee. I yet decided to move with it, and discussing this with my coach, Amir Qayuum; he advised to introduce me to the committee so that I can take it forward.
During that day, I sat with Global Stakeholder Engagement for Middle East Baher Esmat and discussed further action towards my engagement with the ME stakeholder group. And we're moving on with them post ICANN which is something inspiring. As well as with Khaled Kouba, Member of the ICANN Board of Directors, and discussed my engagament with ICANN in the Middle East region.
We were afterwards invited to a "Party With A Purpose" by the ".US" and ".PR" domains, a cool fundraiser, there were Latin dancers, food, and music. To top it off, two famous dancers from Latin America that were in "Havana" the movie, taught us how to dance salsa.
The whole conference was about learning, and that's all we got 24/7, which made it an enriching experience on so many levels.
[SSAC: Security and Stability Advisory Committe]
#DNSSEC, and The Day The Revolution Was Built
This day started poorly for me, I was going down with a fever, and couldn't function very well, I, however, was able to attend the DNSSEC workshop, learn that one of the new comer fellows, Nicolas Fiumarelli, plays the piano flawlessly! And help architect the revolution towards saving our fellowships budget.
You didn't think we forgot about that, did you?
We sat for our daily fellowship meeting, but this day wasn't your usual eat, listen, talk and then run to another session. It was the day we perfected the best pitch we could write in less than an hour. A pitch deck to fit in the 2 minutes allowance in asking the board a question during the next Public Forum coming tomorrow.
We discussed, digressed, and then iterated on the text. Then we deleted it and wrote it all over again until we reached our point!
We were there, ready to take on the dark side, for we were the rebellion! Oh wait, that's in Star Wars [TM] not ICANN, you lost me there for a moment.
I finished the day early and headed over to my hotel, as my fever was peaking almost 39 degrees Celsius, I was running on empty and needed to rest.
Everyone stood up, and then we all said: "See You in 3 months time, ICANN."
I was not able at all to follow through the wrap-up day on March 15th, as my fever hit massively beyond 40 degrees Celsius and I was on two types of medications, yet that did not stop me from following up on the issue at hand. Today, was the day, where we submit our proposed pitch to the board in the public forum.
I was in and out of fever, and through our fellows WhatsApp group and pm-ing everyone I know, I was following up minute by minute in the event of the forum. Kasek an alumnus, and Mona a newcomer, went up, read the paper, our plea to the board, and asked at the end of it, for whoever's ever been a fellow to stand up. Pictures sent to me with almost half the room standing up, as well as two board members.
We got our word through, and our voice heard. And during the process, we created something so beautiful, collaborated in the most evolved and advanced way a group of 60+ people can cooperate. An open roundtable for contributions, as democratic, as democracy gets.
I was proud, happy, very ill, yet ecstatic. And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
The next day, we all flew back home, I left for Beirut, Lebanon. Still had my fever, but was happy with what we accomplished and learned. Glad to have met the people I did, and hoping to see them again as some of them left never-ending marks in my thoughts.
Good buy San Juan, you were amazing. I'll probably not see you very soon, but you'll definitely see me soon at another ICANN meeting for sure.