Thompson Rivers University

Arts alum takes history lessons to Asia

January 2, 2021

TRU alum Dan Connolly has continued his education and teaching career at Korea University.

By Tyler Lowey

Having one eye on the future and one eye on the past has carried Dr. Dan Connolly to heights in the academic world and different corners of the globe he never imagined as a kid growing up in Barriere, BC. He is now an acclaimed professor teaching the subjects he is passionate about at a prestigious Korean university.

Coming out of high school, Connolly stayed close to home and attended Thompson Rivers University, where he graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and received the TRU Medal in Arts for his high GPA.

Looking to further his education at the University of British Columbia (UBC) the following year, Connolly went unclassified, taking ancient history, Latin and Greek language prerequisites for a master’s degree in archeology. After a year studying languages from the past, he decided that a master’s in military history was more interesting, but was rejected because there wasn’t a professor at UBC he could work with in that area of study.

Connolly took a year off to regroup, save money and consider his academic path moving forward. He came up with two options: head north to work in the oil fields with some friends from Barriere, or join a few of his TRU classmates who were travelling overseas to teach in Asia.

Not one with a passion for travel, Connolly nevertheless found himself aboard a flight to Seoul, Korea, in 2002, where he got his start teaching English with a kindergarten class.

“That was the hardest first day of work in my life. I couldn’t understand the kids and they had no clue what I was trying to say. That first day almost broke me,” said Connolly, 42.

Resilient, Connolly became acclimated to the new culture and job. He soon met a woman and decided to tack another year onto his contract. Before he knew it, the contracts kept getting renewed and he was married in 2007.

Even as the years passed, the itch to complete his master’s never left him.

“I started to get the sense that elementary students didn’t have the appetite for Christopher Columbus, the Age of Imperialism and my other interests that I was trying to teach them. I knew it was probably time to revisit my master’s,” said Connolly.

He enrolled at Korea University (KU) in 2011 and began the two-year process to complete his master’s degree in international studies (peace and security). He wrote his thesis about shipwrecked sailors in Asia from the 1600s to the 1800s.

Two years after completing his graduate degree, he was back at KU to start his PhD in international relations (peace and security), studying how the controversies surrounding the use of drones in warfare and in domestic air spaces.

Those degrees led him to pursue an academic career where he can philosophize about Asian relations and the future of war to a more suitable audience.

Throughout his incredible academic journey, Connolly has always maintained a scholarly background in history—one that blossomed from an interest into a passion at TRU.

“TRU’s history program was incredible. During my master’s and PhD, working with professors from places like Stanford and Yale, they did not match the level of classroom instruction that I received from TRU. Professors like Andrew Yarmie, Michael Gorman, Bruce Baugh and John Fudge were simply fantastic. They always encouraged classroom discussion and were there because they truly wanted to be,” said Connolly.

He tries to recreate those elements in everyclassroom where he teaches. These days, he is well equipped to handle the online lifestyle the world is becoming accustomed to and it can all be traced back to his time at TRU.

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