Isabelle Cirulli ’19 Earns Fulbright Award to Colombia

Isabelle Cirulli ’19

Isabelle Cirulli ’19 (Photo provided).

Isabelle Cirulli ’19 has received a 2020–21 US Student Fulbright award for Colombia as an English Teaching Assistant. Cirulli, from Webster, NY, graduated in December with a BA in Spanish and presently teaches Spanish in East Rochester, NY. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed study or research programs, graduate degrees, or English teaching assistant programs in many foreign countries.

Six other Geneseo alumni or seniors have won Fulbright awards for 2020–21: Rachel Britton ’18 (Iceland), Anna Charny ’19 (Spain), Sean McAneny ’20 (Czech Republic), Rickie Nixon ’20 (Vietnam), Sean Welch ’19 (Taiwan), and Connor Widmaier ’20 (Germany).

Cirulli’s exposure to Colombia began in 2017 when she joined Geneseo’s Speech Buddies program and worked with Sharon Becerra, a recent immigrant from Bogotá who wanted to improve her English proficiency. “We discussed Colombian and U.S. culture topics such as slang, higher education, holidays, and music,” said Cirulli. “Sharon shared with me her favorite Colombian artists and introduced me to a whole new world of rhythm.”

A study abroad experience in Costa Rica during spring 2018 influenced Cirulli’s decision to apply for a Fulbright award. “I learned a lot about myself as a person and improved my Spanish immensely,” she said. “I am excited for another opportunity to live abroad in Latin America.”

Cirulli has worked at the college’s Writing Learning Center, specializing as a tutor with non-native English speakers; served as a teaching assistant for former ESOL program coordinator Irene Belyakov-Goodman; and earned the Dr. Khananiya Kaplan Memorial Student Achievement Award for ESOL teaching in 2019.

“Isabelle has excellent world knowledge and intercultural communication skills. She is respectful, creative, and intuitive. I witnessed how quickly she adjusts to different cultures on campus and abroad,” said Belyakov-Goodman. “Students from Colombia, China, Spain, and France told me how much they appreciated her work, manners, and genuine interest in their cultures. She already has a proven record of representing the US abroad, and I am confident that she will do it again with distinction.”

The Fulbright award will give Cirulli the opportunity to perfect her Spanish and blend her love for the language with her interest in teaching English to non-native speakers. “I worked with adult learners in the college’s Together Program, which brings Spanish-speaking families to campus to receive English tutoring from students,” she said. “It definitely confirmed my interest in TESOL [Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages] and teaching Spanish as a career.”

Upon her return to the States, Cirulli plans to work as a Spanish teacher and earn a master’s degree in TESOL to continue her work with teaching English to non-native speakers.

Sarah Phillips ’18 also won a US Student Fulbright award and served as an English teaching assistant in Colombia. Phillips graduated with a degree in Spanish and now works in Washington, DC, as a program assistant at the think tank Inter-American Dialogue. “Most of my day-to-day life in Colombia was spent in the classroom interacting with students,” she remembers. “Fulbright is not only an immersion but also an exchange. I got to teach as much as I learned. You don’t have to be an education major to apply for a Fulbright as I didn’t have any formal schooling in teaching. If you’re unsure about applying, my advice would be to just go for it.”

The 2021–22 US Student Fulbright competition application is now open to students and alumni. The program is administered at Geneseo by Director of National Fellowships and Scholarships Michael Mills, who can be reached at and 585-245-6002. For more information about the Fulbright and other nationally and internationally competitive scholarship and fellowship programs, visit Fellowships and Scholarships.

—Michael Mills