Here's part one of Amanda's blog, whilst you can see part two here.

I had a very fractured and unsatisfactory school career – having been an army child I had already lived in 11 different houses and been to 8 different schools by the time I was 15. My brother, despite his thirst for knowledge, being a bookworm and ‘nerd’ - well before it was ‘hip to be square’ - left school at 16 with no qualifications; the bad timing and disruption caused by house/school moves had damaged both his opportunities and also his interest in learning. Determined not to have the same experience I chose to re-do a year at school when we moved back to the UK from having been stationed in Cyprus, even though this made me feel like a bit of a ‘loser’ – something I always felt a bit ashamed of even later – as if it was a reflection of my intelligence and ability, rather than a sensible reaction to circumstances.

Amandas hairstyles over the years

School days...

I went on to do well at school, discovered a passion for French and 19th Century literature, applied for university - that’s what all the bright kids were doing, so I thought ‘why not me?’ and got in at Manchester – the first person in my whole extended family to ever go. I took a year out to live and work in France and my passion for French grew and grew as I learned more of the language, immersed myself in French culture and gained the confidence to read more complex and difficult texts in French. I was excited about going to Manchester University, but I have to say it was also terrifying, and being from a family with no experience of university or higher education I did suffer from a chip on my shoulder about being a working class student. This was aggravated by the fact I seemed to spend my first few weeks meeting lots of people from well-known public schools and feeling really embarrassed every time I was asked, having said I was from near Salisbury, if I’d been to La Retraite (think straw hats and capes) before shamefully admitting I had in fact been to the local comprehensive.

Reviewing the university experience...

So for me, the experience of going to university was as much about my passion for French and literature as it was about learning to feel proud of where I came from and of myself, and gaining the confidence to engage with people who I had always felt intimidated by. It’s difficult if you don’t come from a ‘privileged’ or supportive background to imagine what it’s like to be given the opportunity to immerse yourself in a subject you are passionate about, to challenge and push yourself and experience the euphoria of literally having your mind blown by education – for the pure joy of learning and expanding your knowledge. I am eternally grateful that when I went to university I was able to get a grant or I probably would have never had this life-changing experience.

Has Amanda's story inspired you to write your own? Don't forget, the deadline for entries is midnight on the 28th February. You'll find all the details on how you can enter here.