Jin Zhao and Helen Qiu stand closely after celebrating their engagement at graduation. Photo: Andy Zakeli

Love is in the air as couple cements their future at graduation

Love is in the air as couple cements their future at graduation

Student proposes to engineering graduate as she celebrates the end of her PhD

For Jin Zhao, the chance to study at the University of Wollongong (UOW) was a dream come true in more ways than one. Not only did it provide him with the chance to “change his life” but it also introduced him to the love of his life – Zhijun (Helen) Qiu.

The couple hail from small towns in China, some 700 miles apart, but fate brought them together last year when they met in Australia at a dinner at Jin’s home while undertaking their degrees at UOW.  

So, where better to take the next step in their relationship, to build their future together, than the very place that brought them together?

Yesterday (Wednesday 12 April) was a memorable day for the couple as Helen celebrated her graduation from UOW with a PhD in materials engineering from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences.

An industry instrument scientist based at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), Helen’s PhD thesis focused on additive manufacturing of nickel-based superalloys.

Jin was right there by her side during the ceremony, cheering her on. But first, he had an important question to ask.

Just before the graduation began, Jin took Helen into the UOW Sports Hub and asked her to marry him. Helen said yes.

Jin Zhao is on one knee proposing to Helen Qiu, who stands on the graduation stage. On the stage is a slide saying 'Helen, marry me'. Photo: Mark Newsham

The moment was incredibly special for the couple, with a video created by Jin that captured all their special moments playing just for Helen.

After the proposal, Helen said she was overjoyed and “very excited”.

Jin said UOW has played a huge role in their relationship, so proposing at graduation seemed like the perfect fit.

“Helen and I travelled thousands of miles to study at UOW. It seems we were somehow arranged to meet at UOW and start a new life together.”

“It is extremely meaningful to me to propose to Helen on the day of her milestone, especially at UOW.”

Although they had originally met at a dinner at Jin’s home, their relationship blossomed over a mutual love of badminton. They were both members of the UOW Badminton Club, but it would take another meeting at Jin’s house to cement their future.

“Fortunately, Helen was also a member of the club, and then we regularly met but still without much talking. One day, Helen and her group mates had dinner at my place again, and we finally knew each other after that time.”

Jin said he has always known that Helen was the one.

“I have had a special feeling about her since we first met. We both feel like family members since our relationship started. Sometimes I think we didn’t meet but were reunited.”