Glebova remembers being teased in school because of her Russian
accent when she first arrived in Canada, but now as the
newly-crowned Miss Universe she hopes to be a role model for
immigrants all over the world.
The dark-haired, green-eyed 23-year-old beat
four finalists from Latin America Tuesday in an 81-woman pageant
watched by as many as one billion people in more than 170
Representing the North American nation on the
world stage was the last thing on her mind 11 years ago when
little Natalie and her family stepped off the plane in Toronto
not knowing a soul.
"We came with nothing, just our clothes and our
bags, and started a new life in Canada," Glebova told AFP in an
interview just hours after the outgoing Miss Universe, Jennifer
Hawkins of Australia, crowned her successor at a glittering gala
Born and raised in the small Russian resort town
of Tuapse on the Black Sea, Glebova said she recalls "being
really scared of the unknown" upon arrival in Canada, where her
family had no relatives or friends.
"At first it was difficult, just because I went
to grade eight at the time, and as you can imagine, kids and
teenagers can be cruel sometimes," she said.
"I was one of the only kids in school with an
accent and a different last name, so it was difficult for the
first few years until I really perfected my language and started
believing in myself more."
She quickly discovered the embracing nature of
Canadians, and thrived in her new ethnically diverse
surroundings in Toronto. She says now she wouldn't change her
lilting Eastern European accent for the world.
"We are so multicultural," the exhausted beauty
queen said as she lounged in a hotel suite in jeans and a lilac
sleeveless top, her Miss Universe sash carefully folded on a
"Everybody is from somewhere else, either their
parents or themselves. That's what Canada is all about."
Part of what motivates her for her upcoming year
as Miss Universe is the aim to help those with similar immigrant
backgrounds, but who may have more difficult adjustments from
one culture to another.
Immigration "gives people an opportunity to
start a new life just like my family," she said.
She recalled her friendship with Miss Israel,
Elena Ralph, who emigrated from Ukraine just three years ago at
the age of 18 and has faired spectacularly well in her new home.
The pair speak Russian when they are together, along with the
representatives from Georgia, Russia and Ukraine.
"I think it's great that countries are
open-minded enough to let somebody who was not born in their
country represent their country," she said.
Natalie's mother Anna Glebova, who abandoned her
job as a Russian language teacher to become a computer software
engineer in Canada, said the family moved in part to provide
better opportunities for their daughter, yet she admits to
pushing her child as a toddler.
"I was pressuring her a lot," Anna Glebova said.
"English lessons at three years old, piano lessons at six, extra
Enduring her mother's intense educational
regimen seems to have paid off handsomely for Natalie, quipped
her father Vladimir Slezin, a former merchant mariner who also
recast himself in the computer sciences.
"Now, for us, it's just a constant feeling of
happiness," he said.
Glebova, who pays courtesy calls on Thai pageant
sponsors Wednesday before flying to the United States and then
back to Canada, said her courageous parents "took a leap of
faith by coming to a new country.
"It's like the American dream, I suppose. The
Canadian dream." (AFP)