Michael Graziano
 
Michael, you have launched a project called Global Degree (and a website to go with it). Tell us something about this project, what inspired it and what your hopes are with it.

Global Degree is a web series about 3 travellers visiting 193 UN nations in 60 months. The concept is you must visit every country to graduate. 
 
I came up with the idea on a 3-week solo trip to Thailand. I noticed three things:
1.     How afraid I was to travel alone. But in those few weeks I made more friends than I knew what to do with. I overcame that fear of loneliness, and realized I can go anywhere and have a great time.
2.     How inexpensive it was. I was spending more as a ghost in Vancouver (with car loan installments, cell phone bills, fitness memberships, subscriptions, etc) than I was living like a KING in Thailand. Still to this day it’s cheaper for me to travel the entire world than to live in Vancouver…
3.     People told me to not go alone because I was going to get drugged, robbed, kidnapped, or even murdered! After going I realized just how wrong those people were, it was absolute paradise. When telling people about this, they encouraged me to come visit their home towns in Kenya, Israel, Iran, Colombia, etc. Then I wondered how many misconceptions there are in the world, and ‘how deep the rabbit hole goes’. What if people are good everywhere in the world and I have nothing to fear?
It all combined into a cocktail of emotions and on the last day of my trip I publicly declared on my facebook wall I was going to visit every country in the world in 5 years, or die trying. That’s it. I’ve found my life purpose. Either I accomplish this goal, or I cease to exist...
 
After this year we've filmed 140 countries. Next year we finish by visiting all of Africa. 

You document everything you do in multiple social media channels. Does this take away something from the spontaneity or authenticity of the experience or not?

It actually breathes new life into the experience. We must seize every moment by having the funnest, craziest, most entertaining experience possible in order to make the best possible episode. I must always be pushing my own comfort limits. 
 
Also moving so fast, it's easy for memories of the trip to be one big blur. But capturing every moment allows us to relive and reflect on the experience.

Do you always travel with the team? Tell us more about the other members and how you get along in very diverse places. How do you decide exactly where to go and what to experience?

Yes. I partnered up with travel videographer Alexander Hennessy and Andrew Santos. Two years ago in Asia, we were accompanied by photographer Natalia Anja. 
 
I've been very lucky to have incredible people on the trip. We make a great team and have strong chemistry. Everybody plays a part in capturing the trip spectacularly. 
 
We have already 10 terabytes of footage and over 30,000 photos. I don't believe there are any UN masters who have documented the experience to this degree. 

So you would like to be the youngest North American male to visit every country in the world. What is your timeline for this, and what difficulties do you anticipate in your goal?

Well that goal is no longer obtainable due to Cassandra De Pecol's recent blitz around-the-world. However, it was never really about the title. I prefer to take more time to enjoy the travels. 
 
I hope to be in the Global Degree grad class of 2019. I will be age 30. 

What do your family and friends think of your project?

My mother’s a lawyer and dad's an accountant. One brother is a rocket scientist, the other is a coder. And my sister is an optometrist. Believe it or not, I think I'm the black sheep in the family.
 
They are all much more conservative with their lifestyle, but have expressed total love and support (and sometimes envy) throughout the trip.
 
After making the public announcement online, I found it interesting how some friends quickly faded away, while other distant contacts have become very close. Goes with the saying "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."

Of the countries you have visited so far, which one has surprised you (positively or negatively) compared to what you expected?

We've had a few pleasant surprises in each continent. So far, we’ve loved Mongolia, Philippines, Colombia, Guatemala, Malta, and Turkey.
Tell us one of your travel stories that has really impacted you so far.

I’ll never forget the day I had one of the best days on the trip walking around the city, and returned to the hostel thinking “wow, Istanbul is amazing”. But then I opened my laptop and saw CNN covering a motorcycle bombing with title “Another Terrorism Attack In Turkey”. They kept playing the same clip over-and-over of swat teams rushing to the site and smoke and dust in the air.
 
It made it look like it was World War 3 over here, which was the opposite of the truth. Five people were injured in this bombing in a city of 10 million. But I wonder how many Muslims were harassed in the US that day. I wonder how many votes Donald Trump just gained.
 
It’s moment like this that make me incredibly excited to see all of the middle east this year.

How has travelling changed you so far?

It hasn't changed me, but made me more myself. Unwilling to conform to perceptions or norms in society.

How do people tend to react when you tell them you are Canadian? What do you feel is the global impression of Canada based on this?

The world LOVES Canadians. I'm so honoured we have such a positive reputation on every corner of this earth.

So, what are your travel plans for the next few months? Which place are you most looking forward to and why?

We're doing all the Caribbean, Pacific, Middle East this year. Really excited for Middle East to publicly debunk a lot of misconceptions, and create awareness against Islamophobia.

And a final question we always ask – if you could invite four people from any period in human history to an imaginary dinner, who would they be and why?

Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, Buddha, and Elon Musk. 
 
Because it would be a hell of a night and some intense conversation.

The photographs accompanying this interview are from Michael's private collection and show him in various locations in the world - try to guess where!

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