A mother’s heartbreaking story of her daughter’s death provides a warning for parents with children considering a study abroad program.

Kassie Braun, 20, died last November while studying abroad. 8News has discovered that the program she was participating in has been at the center of other serious concerns and lawsuits, including the death of a UVA student.

“She had a smile that would just melt your heart,” Braun’s mom said of her daughter, who at 20-years-old had already traveled the world. “Three, four, five continents.”

Braun’s mom said the college student from Indiana was living her dream, studying abroad with a Semester at Sea.

The program allows students to live on a ship and sail from country to country.

It’s a floating college of sorts — taking students from universities across the U.S. to foreign lands.

Braun was on the voyage of a lifetime until it suddenly came to a tragic end. 

“I got a call 5:50 in the morning from one of the students that Kassie had fallen off a pagoda,” Chalene Braun explained.

She was climbing a tiered tower in Myanmar when it collapsed.

“The actual pagoda gave way and she fell with it,” C. Braun said.

Kassie was taken to the nearest hospital four hours away. She died alone on a bumpy dirt road.

Her mother said had she known the closest treatment center was that far away … 

“I never would have let her get off the ship,” C. Braun said.

Her daughter’s death is not the only one linked to this floating college.

8News has uncovered 15 students who have died on semester at sea trips, including UVA student Casey Schulman.

In 2012, the 22-year-old was on a semester at sea snorkeling excursion in Dominica when, “without warning,” she was struck by a catamaran, causing her to be caught in one of the vessel’s propellors and to suffer fatal injuries.

Her father sued in federal court, arguing “as a direct result of Semester at Sea negligence, Casey Schulman was fatally injured.”

A confidential settlement was later reached.

“Do you research, if you don’t use a travel agent do your research and know where you are going before you actually venture out,” travel agent Kate Owen suggested.

Travel agents urge parents and students to do their homework, read travel warnings from the State Department and the Overseas Security Advisory Council. Also, ask questions about medical care and insurance before registering for any program.

Semester at sea gives students a list of safety precautions, but in Kassie’s situation — because of the distance to the nearest hospital — a potentially non-fatal injury took her life.

“That kid deserved to finish her voyage,” her mother added.

Semester at seas has been in business for 55 years. They sent the following statement to 8News:

We mourn along with the Braun family, as Kassie was and will always be a member of the Semester at Sea family. 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, as during our Myanmar pre-port when our Fall 2017 Voyagers were warned against climbing on the religious temples and pagodas. 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.

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