I know being lucky or unlucky is not the only factor that will determine which direction your life will go, but it certainly is a factor. Seeing what people go through and how much trauma they’ve experienced, I’ve realized how lucky I am. I need to remember to appreciate the people who supported me to get where I am today.
Aysu Nordmark (BSc ‘19) is on a tough crisis call with one client when another comes through the door with an equally pressing issue. To an outsider, it could seem stressful in this entryway. But Aysu is used to the busyness and remains level-headed. She wraps up her call, transfers a second to the other line, and she’s free to speak with the person standing in front of her. “It gets chaotic sometimes. You have to be ready, organized and able to multitask,” she says. Aysu is always flexible, and her schedule alone serves as evidence. Her full-time position as a crisis counsellor at the Lethbridge YWCA is split between shift work at the emergency domestic violence shelter and work on the YWCA Amethyst Project. “At the YWCA, our main goal is to support women fleeing domestic abuse to get back up on their feet. We support them through their goals, whether that be financial, housing, employment, substance abuse or counselling, anything really,” she explains.
The Amethyst Project provides crisis intervention work, with the primary goal of supporting women who experienced sexual assault specifically. This work involves providing clients emotional support, immediate crisis response at the hospital, referrals to counselling, daily mentorship and other resources. The emergency domestic shelter is what Aysu describes as more chaotic, as the focus is even broader. Her most common task is helping people with their ‘service plan,’ a document where clients record their goals so that the YWCA can help with them. Aysu might talk one person down from a dark place, guide another through a dangerous situation, and then switch gears to book someone a medical appointment, a meeting with financial services or a house viewing, all in a day's work. In a rare free moment, she’s at the printer, her hands full with sheets of employment opportunities, resume templates and services plans. “In this field, there is a lot of hopelessness and loneliness. The fact that we can change that is huge. I go to bed, put my head on my pillow and say, ‘I did something right today,” she reflects. A simple phone call can save a life. A referral to counselling or even an interview preparation meeting can be the difference between loneliness and hope. Despite the pandemic, being available 24/7 to interact with clients at an emergency domestic violence shelter is necessary. With COVID procedures in place to minimize risk, Aysu still goes into work, bundled in personal protective equipment and ready to tackle whatever she needs to.
With her morning shift at the YWCA over, Aysu still isn’t finished. She heads to the uLeth Accommodated Learning Centre, where she holds her second position as a tutor. Aysu works shifts at the YWCA. “It works well, because if my students have class in the evening, I can work with them in the morning when my shift work is later, and vice versa. Me doing shift work has been sort of a blessing for my students. We haven't run into problems yet!” Despite these demanding hours, Aysu isn’t faking her passion, and she never forgets to stay grateful. “I know being lucky or unlucky is not the only factor that will determine which direction your life will go, but it certainly is a factor. Seeing what people go through and how much trauma they’ve experienced, I’ve realized how lucky I am. I need to remember to appreciate the people who supported me to get where I am today.”
Before working at the YWCA, Aysu worked at Alpha House for almost a year right after graduation. “One of the biggest misconceptions is that it’s tough to get a job with a psychology degree. In some ways, it is, but there’s a lot you can do in the human services field after you graduate, to gain experience, or for life!” Alpha House was excited by her psychology degree and the independent studies she completed as a student. Her application was accepted, and she set to work at the heart of harm reduction policy. “It was eye-opening. I’ve met some amazing people, I’ve heard some really cool stories, working as a part of a big team that is very compassionate about people and saving lives every day was awesome.” Alpha House serves as a shelter and stabilization centre for those suffering from addiction. “As people, we tend to believe that addiction is easy to stop or can stop at any point in your life, which is not the case. It is not an on and off switch. Overcoming addiction takes a lot of effort, dedication and personal strength. And even if the person is ready and has that piece, the next question is ‘Are the people around them ready to support them? Is their environment ready to support them?’ It’s a lot more complicated than what people think,” Aysu explains.
Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Aysu attended uLethbridge as an international student. Her unique worldview and intense empathy have always led her in the direction of human services positions. “The more courses I took in psychology and neuroscience, the more I knew that’s what I wanted to do, help people. I’m also interested in how the mind works and how we behave,” she adds. After completing four independent studies, two in psychology and two in neuroscience, Aysu graduated with her honours thesis and a psychology degree. “It was cool to have lab experiences. It was hands-on. I looked at neurons under a microscope, studied sexual aversion and Alzheimer’s disease. I had the chance to be involved and try things myself.”
Reflecting on her journey, Aysu urges students to take the time to explore opportunities outside of the classroom and follow their passion. “It is okay to take it slow. You can change majors, take less than five classes and follow your dreams. Your GPA matters. How much you learn in those classes to take with you into the future matters. At interviews, I can prove that I have the information and theoretical background, but I also have hands-on experience.” By taking advantage of opportunities outside the classroom, Aysu had little trouble finding work after graduation.
“I had some good days and some bad days. Saw some good things and bad things. But ultimately, it is really rewarding to be able to change people’s lives and even save lives.” In university, Aysu worked hard to keep her grades up while also exploring research opportunities. Getting hired right out of university into her field of interest was no accident. Her genuine love for helping others is refreshing and inspiring. While Aysu loves her current position, she hopes to apply for a Master’s degree in clinical psychology or clinical forensic psychology.