Gülhan Şen is a Turkish television presenter, producer, and a director. Her story reminds us of the fact that you have to do an ungodly amount of work to become victorious
Having travelled to 110 countries and more than 600 cities so far, Gülhan Şen is living a life which every human dreams of. Her life is woven into the fabrics of an infinite spiral of pain and hardship but she was able to overcome it all with her determination, passion, and wit.
Her life was like a roller coaster ride and she couldn’t predict what was going to happen next. But it was her courage coupled with a passion to achieve her dreams which made her simple life into an extraordinary one. They say—“there is no barrier to where we are and where we want to go.”
From being an 11-year-old refugee girl in a tent camp to a well-known TV personality on screen, she has come a long way. Her life story is inspiring. Her journey that she has travelled so far inspires many young people to travel the world and follow their dreams.
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Gülhan story started back in Bulgaria where she was born in a city known as “Shumen”. Her original name given by her parents was Gülhan Halidinova Mahmudova. Her family was a part of the Turkish minority that lived in Bulgaria since the 14th century.
After 1984, due to some communist regime policies, the government started to carry out a harsh cultural assimilation towards the minorities living in Bulgaria which included a ban on the Turkish language and practicing Islamic religion was also forbidden.
After 1985, the government forcefully changed the names of the minority people living in Bulgaria. Turkish names were banned and everybody had to choose new names for themselves even for their dead ancestors. Their atrociousness reached to an extent where even the names on graves of the dead were forced to alter according to the Bulgarian policy.
Her name changed to Galina Hristova Mihaylova when she was just 7 years old. In 1989, the government put a nail in the coffin for the Turkish minority as they were forced to migrate to Turkey. Touted as the biggest exodus in Europe after World War II, nearly 350.000 of the Turkish minority living in Bulgaria had to migrate to Turkey with a limited amount of money and baggage. While it was a cruel act, nobody could imagine that one day this refugee girl will conquer the world.
Gülhan was only 11 years old when she had to leave everything behind: home, pets, and flowers in the garden, her favorite fruit trees, friends, neighborhood, school, childhood hideouts and most importantly, her future plans. She got this intuitive feeling early on, based on the circumstances, that she would never be able to see her friends anymore.
For 3 months Gülhan and her family lived in tents of a Red Crescent Refugee Camp. After having been awarded Turkish citizenship, they had to choose a surname and Gülhan’s family choose “Şen” which means “Cheerful” and her name became “Gülhan Şen”.
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Consequently, her family started to look for jobs while she started studying. Gülhan and her family were having some horrendous time in Turkey.
Now being in a completely different atmosphere, economical insufficiency was very hard to cope up with. Also, there were many cultural differences between them and the Turks. Even the language they were speaking was different than what is spoken in Turkey.
Gülhan’s parents and brother could not find jobs related to their professions and they had to take up offbeat jobs to survive as they needed money to provide rent and other expenses for family members.
Unfortunately, the main sorrow for Gülhan and her family were not the challenges they were facing. But what broke their heart was they were labeled “The Others” again!
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Nevertheless, there were many people in Turkey who welcomed these migrants with an open heart and were extremely helpful. Like a coin has two sides, there were people who were constantly reminding them they were Bulgarians.
“Being a Turk in Bulgaria and being a Bulgarian in Turkey sounds funny to me now but then it was painful” – Gülhan Şen
After so many years of struggle and agony, Gülhan started building a new life from ground zero. Though her foundation was not smooth, her pain has made her stronger and braver than ever. Gülhan always excelled in academics and that didn’t change her performance in Turkey either. Despite all the difficulties and barriers, she was able to make it to one of the best schools in Turkey in order to continue her education.
She studied in Kabatas Erkek Lisesi—a very well-known high school in Istanbul. In 1993, Gülhan’s group was only the second group of girls allowed to study in this prestigious high school. In her first year, she prepared a speech about the empowerment of girls. Among the guests who listened to this inspiring speech was a famous and beloved businessman (Sakıp Sabancı) who congratulated Gülhan and advised her to become a “TV Personality”. This moment was the turning moment of her ferocious life.
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After the completion of high school, she graduated from Istanbul University Communication Faculty, Radio-TV-Cinema department. While pursuing her graduation, Gulhan started interning for TV channels.
Initially, Gülhan was a reporter and covering news, then she became a director and later on a presenter. She first started to make documentaries and later TV programs. The first breakthrough program for Gülhan which gave her fame was Zamanın Ruhu: Zeitgeist (Spirit of Time: Zeitgeist). This program was about the trends, interesting topics and also included interviews with experts and celebrities.
In 2007, she started to make a travel program which resulted in the avalanche of viewers. “Gülhan’ın Galaksi Rehberi” (Gülhan’s Guide to the Galaxy) was the name she chooses for her program inspired by “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. In this program, Gülhan travelled around the world telling her viewers where to visit, what to do, the best places to eat and best things to buy, beginning her travel journey with Turkey
But the most amazing thing about the program was the style of Gülhan’s presentation which was funny yet entertaining and extraordinary, which stole the hearts of thousands of people. Sometimes rolling over the desert dunes, sometimes hugging the walls of Colosseum in Rome and sometimes making jokes to snakes in a piton temple in Benin.
After 10 years of broadcasting, Gülhan’ın Galaksi Rehberi is now on a short break. She will continue her journey soon.
Travelling has shaped her so much that she can write a book about how travelling shapes your personality, your perspective, your way of thinking. Her future roadmap is that she wants to write a book on her journey so far.
“Looking at the life that I have now, so many people are telling me they want to be in my place… But they have no idea of what I’ve lived through and I wonder how many of them could walk the same way that I did if they were in my shoes back at those tough times. Life gives you all the bitter and sweet ingredients and miracles are what you make of them!”- Gülhan Şen