International students celebrate engagement at Innovation Campus

Couple ‘grateful’ after pandemic forced cancellation of plans in Sri Lanka.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upset the best laid plans for many couples looking to make their relationship official.

So it was for Maheshika Nanayakkara and Asiri Nawarathna, who improvised after their original engagement plans were derailed, with a sweet and low-key ceremony at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus last week.

The couple, both postgraduate students at UOW, met in their home country of Sri Lanka in 2015, at a youth conference. When they were searching for a place to continue their studies, they were both drawn to Wollongong.

“We wanted a calm and quiet place to study, preferred good rankings and also friendly people,” Maheshika said. “We found all that here at UOW.”

Maheshika is in her final trimester of a Master of Business, majoring in International Business and Human Resource Management, while Asiri is finishing his Master of Supply Chain and Project Management.

They had planned to return to Sri Lanka in May, during their trimester two study break, and marry among their family and friends. However, COVID-19 had other plans. Unable to travel, Maheshika and Asiri thought their marriage would have to wait.

In Sri Lankan culture, the exchange of rings and signing of marriage certificates is known as an engagement.

“We had planned everything in February and we were looking forward to marrying on May 14, but like many others, we couldn’t go home,” Maheshika said.

“Both of us initially didn’t have a plan to get married here. We knew nothing about the process of getting married in Australia. But our parents gave us the idea to at least try and get to know the process.”

Maheshika and Asiri are International Student Ambassadors, a role in which they provide support, connection and friendships to other international students at UOW.

With the seed of an idea, of how they could possibly marry in Australia, the couple reached out to Sarah Lisle, Lead of Student Programs (International) at UOW, to see if she could help to start planning their special day.

“We both emailed Sarah asking the process and a celebrant she knew of, and it all began like that,” Maheshika said.

“We really believe that we are blessed because from a simple email Sarah gave us enormous support. She contacted the Lord Mayor to be our celebrant, which we were truly honoured, and she found us a hairdresser, a florist, a venue, and everything else we needed with all her love.”

With Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery officiating, Maheshika and Asiri were married on Friday, 31 July at UOW’s Innovation Campus. It was a stunning winter’s day, with the sun shining down on the happy couple as they wed in front of a handful of guests, including friends and family watching via Zoom.

Maheshika and Asiri were thrilled to have finally become husband and wife, and to have the support of the community they have created during their time at UOW. Their engagement photos were taken by fellow UOW international students, Shebin Shajan and Joe Wilfred.

“Our relatives and friends supported us in getting things together. In a way, even though we didn’t have our parents and family near us, the whole community came together to bless us. We feel truly grateful and happy about it.

“Culturally, we call this an engagement. We are expecting to have a traditional and ceremonial wedding after all this goes away.”

Ms Lisle, for her part, said it was a privilege to help the couple to create their special day.

“It was my absolute honour and privilege to assist Maheshika and Asiri,” Ms Lisle said. “They are the most beautiful people. They deserve to have that magical day and start their formal commitment to each other.

“When I mentioned it to a few people, I was overwhelmed by the love and support in the community. We are bombarded by negative news daily, but there is also a sparkle in every grey day. In this case, love and community conquered all.”

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