Elena Boico, 29, was very surprised to meet a Maltese tourist in Moldova. "I only knew Malta from the Eurovision," she says. "I remember when I was young, I was watching the song contest with my family. When the Maltese singer came up on stage, I asked my father where Malta was. He told me to go look it up on his map and I found it."

Elena fell in love with the Maltese tourist, Ruben Schembri. After one and a half years of visiting each other, they decided to settle down in Malta. "It was very difficult to live apart and only meet when we visited each other, so to be together in Malta was the right choice," Elena, who has now been in Malta for two years, says.

From the very first time that Elena visited her boyfriend in Malta, she could see that the island was very different from her home country. "First, there's the size of the country," she says. "I also noticed how everyone is in a good mood and smiling. To be honest, I was a bit jealous, as the people in Moldova are different. There, people struggle to improve their life – they work very hard and you can see this struggle on their face."

Another difference that Elena noticed was that young people in Moldova grow up and become mature faster because they leave their family when they are young to go study or work in the capital. "I left home when I was 17 to study at the technical university in Chisinau. It was difficult, yet the experience taught me how to live alone and take care of myself."

Elena studied water management and treatment and graduated as a hydro-engineer. One of her colleagues in Malta, where she works as a hydro-engineer, says that Elena takes her work very seriously.

"She works very hard," says Sean Carl Grech. "And she is such a fun person to be with. When I am stressed out, I just go to her desk and she manages to calm me down with a joke or a funny story."

Elena didn't find it hard to integrate in Malta. "I first met Elena at my family's Christmas dinner," says Triza, Ruben's sister. "We hit it off immediately – she has a great sense of humour. And she is very determined – when she told me she wanted to learn Maltese, I told her that it was a very difficult language, yet she just went ahead."

"I feel very comfortable in Malta," Elena says. "It helps that I have a Maltese boyfriend and his family make me feel one of them. But then, all Maltese are very outgoing and I feel very safe."

Elena dreams of one day raising a family of her own – in fact, Elena and Ruben will be getting married later on this year. "And if you dream about something, then it will happen," she says. "I dreamt about love, and I found it."

Recipe

Placinte – A tasty snack that can be sweet or savoury.

Ingredients: 2 eggs; 1 egg, beaten; 500gr flour; 1 glass of warm water; Half cup of sunflower oil; Sheep's cheese, crumbled; 1 spring onion, chopped; 1 ripe apple, chopped; 100gr pumpkin, chopped; Sugar; Cinnamon.

Method: To make the pastry, mix the flour, oil, water and two eggs. Then shape it into little balls and roll out. For the first filling, add the spring onion to the sheep's cheese. For the second filling, mix the pumpkin with sugar and cinnamon. For the third filling, mix the apple with sugar and cinnamon. Fill the pastry with the different fillings, close and then roll in the shape of a bun. Glaze with the beaten egg. Bake for 30 minutes at 200°C.

Makes around 15 to 16 placinte.

This interview was included in the publication Interact - a portrait of third-country nationals in Malta, published as part of the media interact project (If 2010 02) and distributed with The Times. They are based on the TV programme Minn Lenti Interkulturali, produced/presented by Maria Muscat (PBS), and directed/edited by Godfrey Smith (PBS) and broadcast on Education22/TVM2 between January and March, 2012 and on TVM between April and June, 2012. The project is co-financed through the European fund for the integration of third-country nationals. The project is led by SOS Malta, in partnership with the Public Broadcasting Services and the Institute of Maltese Journalists.

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