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Not Constantinople

Recent Honors College Grad Alyson Neel Explores Istanbul
Not Constantinople

Alyson Neel rides in a fayton on Buyukuda ("Big Island"), one of seven islands of Istanbul.

Alyson Neel never passes up a chance to succeed. 

“I try to seize everything,” said the energetic 22-year-old Honors College alumna. “I always wanted opportunities; I never wanted my lack of doing something to stand in my way.”

Talking to Neel, it’s clear that she views no obstacle as insurmountable.  She even managed to dually enroll in LSU and Tulane — after being told it was impossible to do so. 

“When they told me I couldn’t do it, I thought, I’ll find some loophole, I’ll figure it out. I was so determined to just be in the room.”

The public opinion and policy class (open to only thirty students) was taught by James Carville, an LSU graduate and the strategist behind Clinton’s successful presidential campaign. Neel made up her mind to apply after hearing about the course from a Tulane faculty member at the bipartisan policy summit in New Orleans. 

“I would drive to New Orleans every Tuesday night to take this class,” she said. “(Carville) would bring in these national leaders and politicians, and he would invite us to come back to his house afterward. We would all have dinner and be able to talk more with the speaker … As a political communications major, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

That same determination that brought her to Tulane is what led her to where she is today.  After graduating in December with a perfect 4.00 GPA and a degree in political communication, Neel is currently interning in Istanbul with the Writers and Journalists Foundation, a nonpartisan international organization whose mission is to bridge cultures through dialogue, tolerance, and education.

Neel has been assigned to the Research Center, where she is learning more about the teachings and history of the movement and its leaders. She is also enrolled in a Turkish language course at Fatih Universitesi.

“I feel like I’m living in a movie right now; I’m like Colin Firth in Love Actually,” she said, laughing. “I stick out like a sore thumb … It has been a culture shock (but) I’ve been open-minded … Learning about another country’s politics is incredible.”

Originally, Neel planned to go to D.C. after graduation and work on Capitol Hill, but an all-expenses paid trip to Istanbul was an offer she couldn’t resist. 

“D.C. was where all my connections were; I had my sights set on it, and it was my dream, so coming to Istanbul was very spontaneous,” she said. “It’s kind of like a dream.”

Despite the language barrier — and getting lost a couple of times — Neel said the experience has been an adventure every day. 

I know it’s going to be an incredible learning experience,” she said. “My one regret in college was that I never studied abroad … now I’m finally realizing that dream.” 

While at LSU, Neel served as both a Manship Ambassador and an LSU Ambassador, worked as a producer for Tiger TV, was active in Student Government, and acted as president of the Society of Political Interests and Networking (SPIN).

She also planned rallies at the Capitol, helped create a documentary to inform students about budget cuts, and managed the war room of the Chancellor’s Office for a year. 

“I knew I wanted to get involved, to have a voice in things on campus … Sometimes adults automatically assume that students don’t know what’s going on and that they’re apathetic … and that they only care about Saturday night. So I would call these legislators and argue. It drove me to find out even more about what was going on,” she said. 

On top of her extracurricular involvement and political engagement, Neel also managed to graduate in just three-and-a-half years — completing her Honors thesis in just one semester — and she paid for her own college education. 

“I’m a very driven person, but part of that is because I’m the first person in my family to go to college,” she said.  “My mom was always like, ‘You can do anything you want to do,’ and she was always very supportive.” 

Neel credits her success not only to her own ambition or her family’s support, but also to the Honors College and its programs. 

“If not for the Honors College, I can’t imagine much of what has happened being possible,” she said.  “I would’ve never chosen my major (or) gotten the internships I did … The great thing about the Honors College is that it’s like a smaller community within this larger community that is LSU.”

She said the Honors College helped her realize her passion for political communications and cemented her desire to get a Masters and a Ph.D.

“The fact that I had a class that was analyzing a presidential election as it was happening was unreal,” said Neel. “The opportunities I’ve had … it’s made my experience a lot richer, deeper and more meaningful.”

Neel plans to continue her education and eventually end up in D.C., where she hopes to pursue a career in policy or communications.

“I’ve always told myself I would never have a job,” she said. “And (by that) I mean I’d never do something I’m not passionate about. I see myself doing advocacy, or a non-profit; I really want to make a difference somehow.”

Until then, she’ll spend the next four months in Istanbul, learning about a new culture and soaking up the rays of the Turkish sun. 

“It’s so exciting and unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” she said. “I’m doing things I never thought I’d do.”

 

 

Story by Elizabeth Clausen, LSU Honors College

For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831