About Dr. Senem Donatan Mohan
I am a storyteller, a consultant and an author who is passionate about exploring authentic ways of communication. I get my inspiration from Mother Nature. I am drawn to find connections within the concepts that seem irrelevant. I apply those hybrid revelations for unleashing the unique communicator within each of us.
Here is my story of how I ended up on the healful and transformative path of storytelling and had the privilege to experience its heartfelt communication possibilities.
In my early childhood, my family and I lived on the 14th floor of an apartment building surrounded by many other high buildings in Istanbul, one of the world’s biggest cities. With construction work going on day after day all around us we lacked access to nature and to any outside playground area. The bitter smell of fluid cement and the burning sensation of concrete dust draw us indoors.
Up in the quiet of our bedroom, my younger sister Ekin and I transformed our bunk-bed into a submarine to travel the depths of the sea. I imagined my crew–my sister and my cousins–and I, as captain, passing by all kinds of sea creatures during our journey. I made up stories about those sea creatures for my crew. Our adventures in imaginary spaces took hours until my crew became tired of listening to my stories and rebelled against my command. Next, we pressed the button of the cassette player and our room became a disco. We danced and mumbled the song lyrics until an adult – either one of my parents or my cousins’ parents- came in and declared ‘’That is enough.’’. To me, dancing could continue forever. My parents told me later how eagerly I moved my body whenever I heard a wee bit of a sound and often forced everybody around to dance with me.
When I started primary school, my enthusiasm for creating imaginary worlds and dancing oozed away. I guess I took my school responsibilities more seriously than expected from a 7-year old girl. After school, I niggled at my homeworks for ages. Then I listened to my parent’s business conversations while we ate our dinner. Before bedtime, I sat on the sofa and looked blankly at the TV screen. At school, once in a while during long lunch breaks, I played hide-and-seek or picnicked with my schoolmates in the big school garden. Other than that, my daily routine kept consistency.
In high school, I joined the drama club. Acting on stage swept away the boredom which I had been carrying since the age of 7, rekindling something inside me. Theatre became my passion. Each day after the last school bell, I rushed to the theatre hall for rehearsal. On the other hand, science was my favourite subject at school; especially chemistry and biology. I was amazed by the dynamic interactions happening deep down at microlevel. Making visible that which was invisible to our physical senses always enchanted me.
Since I was good at science, my engineer parents encouraged me to study engineering. When the decision time came for my future profession, my heart would go for acting. I wished to be the captain who leads people to imaginary worlds. My mind said, ‘’Senem, be realistic. Being an engineer offers you better possibilities in life.’’ At that time, I thought I found a way to satisfy both my heart and my mind.
I studied chemical engineering at Istanbul Technical University during the day and in the evenings I acted on stage at the university drama club. For a long time, art and science were two opposing driving forces in my life. After graduation, I continued to get involved in many art projects as an actress, a director, or a producer. Simultaneously, my scientific career built up from bachelor to masters, from masters to PhD. In 2011, I got a scholarship to do my post-doc research at one of the Max Planck Institutes in Germany. There, I became involved in cancer research; developing nano carriers for targeted drug delivery.
One night, alone in the laboratory, preparing my nano carrier samples, I felt frustrated. That day I messed up twice during preparation and had to repeat the whole procedure over and over. By the third time, I desperately wanted to have it done well and go home. The laboratory room was cold as always and my mood made the room much colder. Due to the procedure, I needed to stay there and mind the samples while they incubated. While waiting, out of the blue, I sang a song I had learned in one of my drama training sessions. As I sang, I felt warmer. I started to dance along and felt much warmer. That night, the laboratory room transformed into a magical disco. I sang and danced at all the waiting times until I finished my work. Returning home, I asked myself ‘’Do I really want to spend the rest of my life in a laboratory room? Or am I longing for spending time in magical spaces?’’ Clearly, the latter.
After that epiphany, I got more clear with my vision. Although my scholarship was for one year, I completed my experiments in six months and terminated my contract. I quit the academy and decided to live from my savings until I could find a way of earning my keep as a performing artist.
During that transition period, I slowed down. The boredom from my primary school days came back and overwhelmed me. Nothing seemed to have a meaning. Then, a great novelty happened. I came across storytelling. My most enjoyable activity from early childhood; setting up imaginary spaces and playing with others was an art form! Storytelling enabled me to dive deep, bringing the hidden treasures to the surface, making the invisible visible and sharing with others.
Since 2013, my focus has been on storytelling. I poured all my scientific knowledge and artistic experience into storytelling. My motivation is to spread the magical healing capacity of storytelling as an art form since I myself have benefited many times from the merits of listening to a good story. I believe that stories are ‘soul food’ and they need to be served delicately in order to nourish the listeners well.
Further in my life journey, I became a co-founder of Seiba International Storytelling Centre located in Turkey. I touched the lives of thousands of children and adults through my performances. I have also trained hundreds of people to develop their storytelling skills throughout Asia and Europe.
In 2017, I attended a personal storytelling intensive workshop for three weeks on Crete island. There I fell in love with my Irish husband and moved to Ireland in 2019. Here, I established my own company. Since then, I have performed at festivals, in schools, libraries, museums and at special events. I have facilitated workshops in cultural and community centres and at corporate settings.
Storytelling taught me to savour playing with words and creating multilevel meanings. I applied these teachings into my writing. My first children’s book ‘’Why?/ A story-science-game journey’’ was published in Turkish in 2020 and it made its third edition so far. My second book ‘’How?/ A story-science-game journey’’ is to be published soon in Turkish. At the moment, I am writing a third book, this time for adults. It will be published in 2023 in English.
Thank you for reading my story.