Human Security Profile Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst: From practice to theory and back again

Former Human Security student Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst is on his way to the Middle East as military observer under the UN auspices to supervise peace processes and security of groups and individuals in the Golan Heights. With a background in the Danish Military and a degree of Human Security from Aarhus University he combines practice and theory which is a core focus at the master’s program. 

By Kirstine Saxe Nordal

As a young lad Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst dreamt of becoming a war correspondent and studied journalism in Aarhus until he realized he was not “old enough to go to school yet.” However, he later applied to the Royal Danish Defence College in Copenhagen to become an officer linguist in Dari and Pastho. The demanding two-year education sparked an interest in the Middle East, which Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst pursued by finishing a bachelor’s degree in Persian language and culture from University of Copenhagen and subsequently getting deployed to Afghanistan as an officer linguist. 

The struggle in Afghanistan is manifold and for Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst he perceived the conflict through a lens of gender, culture and language. Educated to be a Gender Advisor in the Danish Military, Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst knows how gender affects a conflict and what is at stake in relation to gender roles. “Understanding gender can support the understanding of a conflict, both for the individual and for a group of people when building the Afghan institutions,” he explains. Most of his work tasks during deployment was in a cultural and linguistic frame, where he contributed with specialized knowledge of the area. 

Frustration of university idealism 

Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst wanted his next career step to be founded in his already excessive knowledge about culture and the Middle East, but also with the chance of being challenged theoretically. He is interested in biology, so when he came across the Human Security Program at Aarhus University, which combines anthropology and biology to understand conflicts, development and climate change, he applied. 

“I faced some frustration in the beginning due to the fact that I had more work experience than other students and had been in real life situations, where theory simply does not hold.” Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst is familiar the theoretic approach from the university but carries his practical experience from his military duty with him as something that cannot be ignored. “I met idealists at the university, and sometimes ended in conflicts with other, but I think both parts learned something, at least I did.” 

Combining the cross disciplinary dots

The cross disciplinary approach was a decisive element for Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst during the program. “After being in a conflict zone, one truly realizes how much natural resource matters. It felt like combining the dots between my prior areas of knowledge.” In the course about Agricultural Ecology Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst and his group studied how to support peace processes in Mali by means of agroforestry. It made a lot of sense to Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst to work with students of different backgrounds as he experienced how to develop and challenge existing solutions to problems. 

When reaching the third semester all students at Human Security has the opportunity to do a project placement either in Denmark or abroad. Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst made use of his military knowledge and network and chose to do a qualitative survey of Danish cadets and their perception of gender in their work life. “I was able to define my own area of interest as well as work tasks, which I was really content about. Also, the Danish Defence Academy is really interested in my findings and open to implement it.” 

Upon finishing his thesis Søren Brusgaard Lillelund-Holst is ready again to travel to the Middle East to make use of his knowledge. In spite of the frustration rising from the gap between theory and knowledge at the university he is most content with the teachings from Human Security. “The Human Security program does not lead you to a specific work position and you have to be able to define it for yourself. It is a theoretical foundation which supports other professions, and for me it makes sense to use it in the work I am now going to do in the Middle East for the UN.”

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