Juggling more applicants than ever before, Charlotte Passe-Carlus, French citizen and teacher over the program, said the terrorist attack on Paris-based magazine Charlie Hebdo was the “tip of the iceberg” as to whether or not students should be sent to the BYU-Idaho study abroad program in Montpellier during Fall Semester 2015.
“For me, it was a sign of what’s going on in France right now,” Passe-Carlus said. “It’s not just about terrorist attacks, it’s about the instability we have right now and this attack was very presentative of what we’re going through, and I didn’t want to send students into that kind of atmosphere.”
The program was officially canceled in January 2015.
Passe-Carlus said she began to collaborate with her supervisor, and they agreed to send a smaller group of only 11 students rather than the larger group she had originally intended before canceling the program.
While the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January killed 12 people, a gunman unassociated with the group in Paris held two hostages in Montpellier, according to Time Magazine.
Although Passe-Carlus said the gunman in Montpellier did not appear to be associated with any Muslim religious affiliation or have religious motives, the event was still a deciding factor for the continuation of the program because Montpellier is where the study abroad students will reside with host families and attend Université Montpellier III Paul Valéry.
“The hostage situation happened right down town,” Passe-Carlus said. “They’ve also found some Jihadist signs in Montpellier. There is a lot of religious tension in France right now, and it’s building up.”
Josie Mortorff, a senior studying art, who will be attending the university through the program this fall, said she would not be surprised to see the tension overflow in France during her stay.
“There’s a lot of tension in France right now because the farther south you go, the more Muslims there are, and I think there’s discrimination on both sides,” Mortorff said. “There are a lot of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa and Asia and all over Europe, it’s a huge melting pot.”
Passe-Carlus said that on top of everything, the economy in France worries her as well.
“I’m more worried about the economic situation that’s going on in France right now,” Passe-Carlus said. “We’re really going down economically. In Greece, there are demonstrations in the streets because the banks don’t want people to come rushing to draw money out of their accounts, because there is no money to draw out because 90 percent of money is electronic now. That’s going to kill the economy and the monetary system; it’s just a mess, and I know the same thing can happen in France.”
Passe-Carlus said that because of the instability in France, she was selective when reviewing applicants for the program.
“The poor economy in France means demonstrations, it means strikes, it means you can’t go to school,” Passe-Carlus said. “I didn’t want to send students, especially American Mormon students who tend to be more sheltered, into that environment, so I tried to stick to a certain profile when reviewing new applicants.”
Mortorff is fluent in French, as she served in the France Toulouse and France Lyon mission, only hours away from Montpellier.
“I know that she tried to stick with the applicants who had at least been abroad before, or who had at least taken courses in the language,” Mortorff said. “I want to be aware of what’s going on politically but I’m excited to go and practice French in an all-immersive environment.”
Passe-Carlus said that while the instability in France continues to bubble over, her hopes for her students’ safety remain a concern, and she hopes to continue the program.
“I pray that whatever happens that they will be safe,” Passe-Carlus said. “I have a feeling that things are going to be wrong but that these students will be watched over and that they’ll be safe. I hope to continue the program, but that depends on what’s going on in France next year.”