Gunnar Garfors is one of the few persons who have literally visited each of the 198 countries in the world - and the youngest to ever achieve that feat while working a full-time job! He compiled his adventures in the book “198 - How I Ran Out of Countries”.
Originally from Norway, Garfors studied at Falmouth University in the United Kingdom and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Broadcasting in 1998. He has been working for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation since 2000, and also did a Master's degree with multiple stays studying abroad. Together with Adrian Butterworth, a fellow Falmouth graduate, Garfors set another travel record in 2012: Visiting 5 continents in one calendar day.
In this interview with Study.EU, he reveals why he chose to study in the UK, if he can recommend studying abroad, and where it was that the travel bug really bit him:
How and why did you decide to study at Falmouth University (then Falmouth College of Arts)? It sure seems like a random pick for a teenager from a small Norwegian village!
I wanted to study media to become a journalist, but that was the hardest education to get accepted to in Norway at the time, the required grades were sky high and way above my own. When I was not accepted at any universities or university colleges in Norway I decided to apply to a few universities in the UK. I was accepted at one in Edinburgh and at Falmouth. The degree in Scotland took four years, vs. three in England, so that made the choice easy due to costs. Tuition was around 5,000 pounds per year plus living expenses. And I had been to Cornwall with my family on holiday as a kid, so I knew I would love it there.
Falmouth University is the perfect size: small enough to feel important as a student, yet big enough to always meet new people.
What did you like most about your time in Falmouth?
The size of the university is perfect. It is small enough for you to feel that you are important as a student, yet big enough to offer quality equipment, facilities and staff and for you to be able to always meet new people.
Gunnar Garfors (bottom left) at his Bachelor’s graduation ceremony in Falmouth
Later, you got your Master’s degree in Management at BI Business School, and spent large parts of your studies in other countries. Can you recommend studying abroad? What are the most important ways in which studying abroad has influenced you?
There is not much I can recommend higher than to study abroad. The way you get to engage with people from around the world and to learn about another culture and another society than your own elevates a great education and makes you learn a lot about yourself. There is no doubt in my mind that there would have been a lot less tension around the world if every politician had actually studied abroad. I am from the village of Naustdal on the Norwegian West Coast, with 1,500 people. Falmouth isn’t huge, but to come to a town in another country really opened my mind. Norwegians are well known for being shy (although many people think we are arrogant, as we are too reserved to say hi or even smile to strangers), and being influenced by people who are much less so (British students and staff as well as foreign students) made me open up quite a bit. It also made me appreciate cultural differences and contributed to my travel interest.
Intercultural and international experience are very important.
Now that you have travelled to every country in the world - if you were to study abroad again, which country would be your favourite choice, and why?
I have no regrets at all about studying in Falmouth, although you learn English so well in Norway anyway, so maybe I would have picked a Spanish speaking country to learn a third language fluently. Then again, learning Chinese or Arabic would also have made sense in that respect, but the media is less free in most countries where those languages are spoken, so that could have been counterproductive. I love going for hikes in stunning sceneries and connecting with nature, so perhaps Chile or Argentina. I think I would have enjoyed studying there.
There is not much I can recommend higher than to study abroad.
You’ve spent nearly two decades working for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation NRK, and in various roles got to visit many countries around the globe. How important do you consider intercultural and international experience in today’s working world?
It depends a bit on the industry you work in, but I’d say it is generally very important. If for no other reason than to understand and appreciate how the world works together in so many aspects and how much we actually depend on each other. It also leads to mutual respect and lowers barriers within and between companies, organizations, industries and countries.
Garfors in Cape Verde - the final of 198 countries
In your book, you tell a short story about each of the 198 countries you visited. For which country did you find it particularly difficult to limit yourself to just a few pages like that, and which awesome story have your readers missed out on?
Hahaha, I love your very leading question. Thank you so much for reading my book, I hope I didn’t waste the time I “stole” from you. There are so many more stories that I could and perhaps should have told. There are obviously many stories from the UK after my three years in Cornwall, and I have also spent a lot of time and engaged in all sorts of crazy stuff in Korea.
Studying abroad made me appreciate cultural differences and contributed to my travel interest.
You dedicate a special chapter to the so-called “stan” countries: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. What fascinates you about them?
That’s where the travel bug first bit real hard. My brother Øystein and I visited Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and we were received so well. Almost no tourists travelled there back in 2004, and the hospitality we were met with was absolutely world class. Add the wild mountain and the indescribably beautiful scenery, and you cannot blame me for deciding to visit the rest of the “stans”. When I had visited all seven in 2009 I needed another goal, and that goal turned out to be every country in the world.
Have you ever been back to Falmouth or the University, perhaps to visit old friends?
I returned every 2 or 3 years for a while, then I was back 4 years ago for a wedding. I will return this year or next. England is my second home country, and that is primarily due to my incredible time in Falmouth. The size of the town is just right, and I love the atmosphere. There is very little that beats the feeling of having a pint with good friends in the spring or late summer, sat at one of the outside tables between The Quayside and The Chain Locker. The two old pubs are by the seaside, with a splendid view of the boats in the harbor. Some staff members and a few fellow students are still in town. And I also played football for Falmouth Town, so I know quite a few people from the team too. Falmouth makes me smile. And despite being slightly biased, I named Falmouth as the world’s best small town in a list for US Magazine Thrillist back in 2016.
Garfors and fellow Falmouth graduate Adrian Butterworth in Istanbul, setting off to visit 5 continents in one calendar day
You are currently working on your second travel book. What can you tell us about it?
I am finishing my next book which will be published in January 2019. The working title is “The World’s 20 Least Visited Countries” and go much more in-depth than in my first book where I covered all 198 countries. Needless to say, most people will never visit any of the 20 least-visited. Hell, most people haven’t even heard about all of them.
The last year I have returned to the 20 countries to research the book, to meet people, to take more photos and to refresh my memory. All 20 countries are in Africa, Asia and Oceania. Some of them are less visited due to conflict or outright war, others are just too difficult to visit, logistically speaking. And you won’t visit a place you never heard about, i.e. Kiribati (pronounced Kiribass) or Tuvalu.
I am unlikely to stop travelling anytime soon. Or ever.
What’s the next trip you have planned?
I am off to England tomorrow, but I will unfortunately not have time to pop by Falmouth before continuing to Cuba and some other Caribbean countries. I also have a log cabin just south of Narvik in Northern Norway, under the midnight sun. I will go there with my girlfriend Caroline and her cat in July. My brother Håkon and I built it ourselves, and it is pretty basic, but I totally relax up there, with a fjord and stunning mountains just outside the window. No roads go there, so we have to cross the fjord by our own little boat. And in August I am planning on a little trip to Iraq and Syria before a work conference will take me to Germany.
Not to travel would be an insult to my mind, so I am unlikely to stop anytime soon. Or ever.