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Mom wants more transparency about risks for study abroad programs

Chalene Braun's daughter Kassie, died while exploring the world on scholarship. Chalene says her loss shows an urgent need for more transparency about the risks to student safety.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - She's on a mission to improve student safety.

Chalene Braun's daughter Kassie, died while exploring the world on scholarship. Chalene says her loss shows an urgent need for more transparency about the risks to student safety.

Last November, Kassie was in the middle of embracing the people, the places, the cultures of the world. Through the Semester at Sea program, she was to visit ten countries on four continents in 106 days.

It was the voyage of a lifetime for the Cathedral graduate and student from St. Edward's University. Kassie was a seasoned traveler, with an exuberant spirit to explore.

"Part of this whole tragic story is she was in such a beautiful place. She was in such a beautiful part of the world and she was loving every minute of it," Chalene said. "She was always planning her next adventure."

But she never completed this one. During their stop in Myanmar, Kassie died after an accidental fall while climbing an ancient pagoda.

"She was just standing there and the rocks gave way. The bricks gave way. She fell 35-40 feet," Braun said.

A hospital, her mom later learned, was many hours away. Kassie died in an ambulance.

Chalene Braun says if she'd known about the distance to medical care, her daughter never would have gotten off the ship on that stop.

"Truly, my daughter's life would not have ended on a bumpy road, a bumpy dirt road, in the middle of nowhere Myanmar," Braun said.

Kassie's mom now wants to help keep other students safe. She says study abroad programs aren't transparent enough about the risks. Her daughter, for example, did get a safety sheet.

But Braun worries it's not specific enough.

"This gives a false sense of security and I didn't even look at these green sheets because it was only provided to my daughter," Braun said. "The bad part of it, is it wasn't complete information and it wasn't transparent in that the hospital listed on that sheet is 8-10 hours away from Bagan."

Braun says to honor her daughter's love for travel, she wants to partner with Semester at Sea to make changes and give families more information to prepare and evaluate risk. Until then, she's issuing a warning to parents, so that students who love to explore, like Kassie, can do so safely.

"I just want to caution all parents who are considering travel for their kids: let them go. But do your homework," she said.

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Eyewitness News reached out to Semester at Sea for comment on Braun's Facebook post.

Here's their statement and a video they made in honor of Kassie Braun:

We mourn along with the Braun family, as Kassie was and will always be a member of the Semester at Sea family. In a matter as sensitive as the death of a student and out of respect for the Braun family, we did not and do not plan to respond to Ms. Braun's Facebook post directly, although we have been in communication with the Braun family about ways to honor Kassie's memory and be sure that our program remains as safe as possible for all our voyagers.

Semester at Sea has rigorous and tested health and safety measures that have been developed and adapted over its 55-year history. Our mission as a comparative global education abroad program compels us to call on both developing and developed countries. We've successfully called on Myanmar, a developing country, for over a decade. While the infrastructure of Myanmar may not be the same as the U.S., it is important to educate our young people about the challenges of the world. Much like in any country, medical care varies in different locations within that country. While there are very modern and advanced medical centers in most areas of Myanmar, there are areas that do not have the same quality of medical facilities. We educate students as clearly and often as possible about the medical infrastructure and potential risks in each country whether they are on a Semester at Sea program or traveling independently. However, as the world is ever-evolving, we are always working with our health and safety partners, inclusive of the U.S. State Department, to constantly assess each country on our itinerary for potential health and safety risks and to be sure that our communication to students and their parents is as complete and thorough as possible.

The safety of our students is always our number one priority. The Fall 2017 Voyagers and indeed, the Semester at Sea community as a whole, mourns the death of such an amazing woman.

Layne Hanson
Vice President of Public Affairs
Institute for Shipboard Education | Semester at Sea®