Words by: Xenia Sanut
Art by: Victoria Petrie

We were briskly walking through the streets of Paris, trying to make it in time for the hop-on hop-off bus tour.

It was an overcast day and our group — a mix of ninth and tenth grade students — stretched down the length of the sidewalk, chatting animatedly. For most of us, this was our first trip without our parents; we had spent the last year fundraising through bake sales and pizza days for this opportunity to travel to Europe during the September school holidays.

As we neared the centre of the city where the bus-stops were located, concrete apartments made way for intricate stone- work and narrow windows — the trademark style of classic residential Parisian architecture. A slight drizzle began to fall as a red double-decker bus pulled up to the curb, but not even a little rain could stop the excitement of a handful of 15-year-olds in the City of Love. We piled onto the bus and clambered up the steps onto the second floor, rustling in our flimsy raincoats and laughing as we jumped into our damp seats, phones and cameras in hand. The bus jostled us around from the Seine to the Louvre, the foreboding Notre-Dame cathedral to the terrifying multi-lane roundabout which circled the Arc de Triomphe, before stopping at a towering iron structure which was none other than the iconic Eiffel Tower.

As ‘Les Champs-Elysees’ blared over the bus’s speakers for the hundredth time, my normally reserved self impulsively shouted “bonjour!” at all the people walking past. An elderly man walking with his wife looked at us and smiled. He stopped, took off his hat and bowed, yelling back in a thick French accent, “bon- jour, welcome to Paris!” I beamed. For me, this greeting wasn’t just a ‘hello’ from a friendly stranger, but a poignant moment where I realised I had the entire world before me. Today’s trip with teachers and friends would eventually turn into trips with no supervision — just me free to roam the big, wide world.

A world that is scary and full of unknowns, but also a world that is kind and beautiful. Who knew that all it took would be a simple ‘hello’ to make me feel so alive.

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