WHEN former Miss Moscow Maria Benfield arrived in Accrington, she admits it was a bit of a culture shock.
Maria, 23, of Devonshire Street, said: "I have a degree as a translator and teacher of French, Russian and English.
"My university did an exchange for the best student to be sent abroad for a year to improve their English. I was sent to Accrington and Rossendale College.
"It was very hard work at the beginning, it was a difficult time. But I met my husband here, fell in love and I just stayed.
"Then I loved Accrington."
Even so, Maria is still finding it hard to get to grips with some of the finer points of English culture, especially the Lancashire cuisine.
She said: "I hate greasy food but when I tried fish and chips I quite enjoyed it. But after I finished the meal I felt sick for days with all the grease. That was the first and last time I had fish and chips."
She is now manager at the Jacques concession at Oswaldtwistle Mills.
It is all a far cry from her upbringing in a flat in Moscow with her mother Marina Drobyak, a teacher, and father Vladimir Drobyak, a manufacturer of Army clothes.
Maria was 16 when she was entered into the Miss Moscow competition without her knowledge.
She said: "My schoolteacher filled an application form in for me and sent my photo. I didn't know anything about it and didn't want her to do it. I wasn't very confident.
"A couple of weeks later a reply came saying that I needed to go to a modelling agency at a particular time for the heat.
"I went and there were 25 girls there but I came third and went through to the final.
"In the final we first had to wear a Russian traditional national costume.
"The next round was stuff from the Seventies and the last one was dress of the future, so we had to design our own dress and show it to the judges. We then had to answer lots of questions."
Maria added: "I wasn't nervous until the last minute because I wasn't confident and I was sure that I was not going to win. So I wasn't bothered about it. I thought if I'm not going to go through, I'm not going to go through."
But much to Maria's amazement, the judges awarded her the crown.
She said: "When I won I couldn't believe it, I couldn't believe it for a couple of months.
"Lots of agencies sent me application forms because they wanted to take me on to do advertising work.
"But my dad didn't really want me to be a model because he said it's not a profession. He said I had to get a degree and then after university I could do what I wanted. He said I should at least get an education."
Maria is now married to Alan Benfield, 31, a martial arts instructor.
Despite his encouragement, Maria is reluctant to take modelling further as a career.
She said: "My husband and friends say go for it but I think I'm too old now. I'm 23 and models are usually 16 to 18."
Maria and Alan plan to move to Russia in around five years time.
She said: "I want my children to go to a Russian school because kids have more respect over there than they do in England."