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A Lifelong Pursuit of Adventure: CIEE Alum on NBC’s The Island with Bear Grylls

A study abroad program is an adventure. For CIEE alum Rick Smith, his semester in Monteverde, Costa Rica was the catalyst for his pursuit of adventure as a lifestyle. Most recently, he appeared as a one of 14 survivalists on Bear Grylls’ The Island, a new reality show on NBC which premiered this month. 

When NBC reached out to Smith about participating on the reality TV show The Island as a cameraman, he didn’t initially grasp that he would also be one of the survivalists on the show. The show follows 14 men on an island in the Pacific, with limited resources. Smith is one of four ‘embedded cameramen’, meaning that he is tasked with filming the progress as well as surviving on the island. Unlike a typical reality show, there are no winners and no prizes: the only goal is to survive. 

APF_05_rick antler ridge camera

Credit for all photos: Rick Smith.

Alan Masters, the resident director for CIEE in Costa Rica, says that the Costa Rica program attracts a unique group of students. "It is clear that alumni of CIEE's Tropical Ecology & Conservation program have a world of opportunities to explore," says Masters. "I hope some of the biology he learned in Costa Rica will help him and his comrades on the island."

According to Smith, the show deals with issues conservation, resource management, and habitat loss - all topics which he studied during his semester abroad. “In some ways, [the show] was a little microcosm of society – a small island with limited resources,” he says. Smith also notes that one of the most important lessons he took away from his participation on the show was the importance of teamwork. “I went in thinking about survival as something that had to do with me – but you have to rely on other people and work as a team,” he says. 

Another Rick Self-Portrait

Rick as a teaching assistant in Monteverde, Costa Rica with CIEE.

“I realized I needed to keep having those adventures, and I think study abroad programs can offer that real sense of adventure unlike anything else,” says Smith.

Smith’s background in environmental filmmaking contributed to his selection as a participant on The Island. He earned an undergraduate degree in biology from Whitman College, and chose to study abroad with CIEE on the Tropical Ecology + Conservation program in Monteverde because of its unique program focus and its reputation as a rigorous life sciences program. Although he had some background in outdoor activities, being immersed in the jungle ecosystem of Costa Rica led Smith to discover a new passion for the outdoors. He remembers the distinct feeling that he had found something that he needed to keep doing. “I realized I needed to keep having those adventures, and I think study abroad programs can offer that real sense of adventure unlike anything else,” says Smith. Rick returned to Monteverde a year later, this time as a teaching assistant for the CIEE program. 

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Image: Rick on The Island

After a year as a teaching assistant, Smith returned to the U.S. and earned an MFA in Science & Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State University. He has spent the past ten years building his career as a nature and wildlife photographer. Smith’s professional filmmaking career has included projects featured on top networks, including National Geographic Television, Animal Planet, PBS, the Nature Conservancy, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

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Interested in pursuing your own study abroad adventure? Check out all of CIEE’s study abroad programs, including our STEM-focused programs in Bonaire, Costa Rica, Australia, Brazil, Berlin, and more. 

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