A Russian student who knew only six English words when she came here as a child is representing Britain at an international beauty contest – while studying a Masters degree.
Stunning Maria Rimmer-Turbakova, 21, left her birthplace in Yekaterinburg, and moved to Huddersfield, West Yorks. at the age of eleven.
For months she cried herself to sleep at night and struggled to communicate with her new classmates with only the most basic words.
Scroll down to see a video of Maria
But ten years on she is studying for a Masters degree and now been invited to represent England in the Miss World University competition in South Korea.
Maria – who now even speaks with a Yorkshire accent – said: “I can’t believe how lucky I am to be invited to the competition.
“When I moved here I couldn’t understand anyone because I wasn’t taught any English over in Russia.
“I only knew how to say ‘hello,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘goodbye,’ ‘yes’ and ‘no’ so it was very much the basics.
“It was very scary for me but because I started at school straight away, I had no choice but to learn.
“I suppose you could say I was thrown in the deep end. To think what my life is like ten years later is amazing.”
Maria came to England when her mother married her Yorkshire stepdad. She added: “The teachers I had and my classmates were all fantastic.
“They made me feel so welcome and they helped me so much.
“I used to spend a lot of time reading with a librarian called Mrs Staley and within six months I was able to communicate on a basic level.
“I was so happy when people were able to understand me. I had to use a lot of hand gestures at first but I made progress so quickly thanks to the support everyone gave me.
“I know that if it hadn’t been for them I wouldn’t be in the position I am today.”
Thanks to the help of dedicated staff at Almondbury High School and Language College, Maria became fluent in English within three years.
She gained 9 GCSEs and four A-Levels and then graduated from Leeds University with a degree in Psychology.
She is now taking a masters degree in Investigative Psychology at Huddersfield and hoping to do a PhD there too.
Maria said. “I started modelling when I was 17 after a relative in Russia, who is into photography, took my picture and said I should think about trying it.
“I gave it a go and although it seemed very strange at first, it really started to improve my self esteem.
“I applied to an agency two years ago and I didn’t think I stood a chance because I’m not very tall but they took me on.
“Since then I’ve modelled for Virgin and local clothing companies and I was runner-up in the Miss Yorkshire event last March.
“It was at that event when one of the organisers approached me and asked me if I would be interested in taking part in the Miss World University competition.
“I knew straight away what an amazing opportunity it would be and I said yes.”
The trip, which will last for nearly a month, will also see her travel to Korea and then onto Cambodia, where the final will be held.
Maria, who is also a talented artist, will perform belly dancing and drawing during the competition.
She added: “I’m so lucky to have been chosen and I’m really excited for it.
“I think it will be a brilliant competition and I hope it will help raise awareness of the importance of world peace, especially with the conflict we see today.
“If you win, you are represented for a year as a peace ambassador which is a great opportunity.
“I’m so grateful to all of my friends and family who have given me so much support.
“I’m the sort of person who can’t sit still and I constantly have to be doing something. I think that is why I have managed to achieve what I have and I have my family to thank for that.
“It’s the way I have been brought up and I’m so thankful.”
She has had her costumes donated by two local businesses but welcomes sponsors to help fund her trip.
Maria volunteers with Kirklees Youth Offending Team, mentoring young offenders, and says her dream is to become a forensic psychologist.