Senior trip abroad raises safety issues

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Disappearance of teen in Aruba makes parents of local high schoolers wary about trip to Cancun.

The recent disappearance of an Alabama teenager on a school trip in Aruba definitely gave Cape Girardeau parent Debbie Browne second thoughts about letting her own daughter travel outside the country.

But in the end, Browne and the parents of 30 other Notre Dame Regional High School graduates decided it was time to let go.

The group of 18-year-olds left last week for Cancun, Mexico, the first time most had traveled without adult supervision.

"It's just one of those gotta-let-go experiences," said Browne, whose daughter, Laura, is on the trip. "It's not always easy and it's a major sign of trust."

Browne said the trip was planned months before the May 30 disappearance of Natalee Holloway, an Alabama teenager who was part of an adult-sponsored senior trip to Aruba. As of Saturday, Holloway had still not been found.

Browne said the local teens were well-armed with both parental warnings and advice from the travel agency that arranged the trip.

"We talked to this group in great depth even before the disappearance in Aruba," said Carolyn Kempf, a consultant at Elite Travel Agency.

Kempf said her agency has been handling student trips since 1992.

"It's their first opportunity to be in a place with a lot of temptations without anyone to watch over them," Kempf said. "We tell them to use common sense, that no one in a foreign country is your friend. We tell them don't drink, but a lot of times that falls on deaf ears."

Kempf said that type of discussion is especially important when young people are traveling alone.

"A lot of groups that do have problems didn't get that hard talk, because nobody wants to hear that. They want to hear about how much fun they're going to have," Kempf said.

The Notre Dame students are set to return home Monday.

"There are concerns any time you go somewhere, but this group of kids is smart. They can protect each other," Browne said.

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