Hundreds of thousands of American college students are recruited for study abroad each year. Glossy brochures suggest unique opportunities in exotic locations. Yet, while most programs are safe, some families learn too late that study abroad is a multibillion-dollar unregulated industry and their child, far from home, is now sick, injured, has disappeared, or is dead.
Emmy-winning filmmaker Robyn Symon tells the story of TRIP OF A LIFETIME and two moms who discovered truth the hard way and have joined forces to make student travel programs safer.
In 2011, Elizabeth Brenner’s 20-year-old son Thomas and classmates hiked unsupervised through narrow trails and steep cliffs during rain. Thomas slipped, falling 300 feet into a river. His body was never found. One year later, during a class outing to a beach in Costa Rica, two students were pulled into a rip current. One student was saved, but Ros Thackurdeen’s 19-year old son Ravi drowned, his body recovered by his family two days later.
Each mom initially believed what happened to their sons was a rare incident. After all, the schools connected to Thomas and Ravi’s deaths include University of Utah, Swarthmore College and Duke University. Yet the moms quickly learned of hundreds of other cases and that there is no central database of student deaths or injuries, making evidence-based prevention measures impossible. Fueled by love and in honor of their sons, Brenner and Thackurdeen formed Protect Students Abroad to track student safety incidents abroad and use that data to promote awareness among families about the risks and persuade lawmakers to enact legislation protecting students abroad. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney introduced transparency legislation called the Ravi Act, saying “Right now, it’s buyer beware. We need accountability so parents and students can make informed decisions and keep our kids safe.” But the moms’ mission faces many obstacles and some powerful foes.