Brea Steinkamp is an Iowa girl, but holds a place for Europe in her heart. Steinkamp, 24, is an English teacher for the Peace Corps in Moldova, a small country in Eastern Europe.
Steinkamp, the daughter of Dean and Dana Steinkamp and sister of Ryan, attended St. Malachy School in Creston for nine years. She is a 2007 Creston High School graduate, and earned her associate degree from Southwestern Community College. She graduated from Northwest Missouri State University with a degree in secondary social sciences, and is certified to teach history, geography, government and sociology.
Steinkamp has been teaching English in Moldova for one year, and has another year left.
“Moldova has a teacher-centered classroom, where the teacher stands in front and lectures to the kids about how to speak English, and by doing exercises out of the text,” said Steinkamp. “Very by-the-book.”
Because of the teacher-centered classroom, she teaches the local teachers how to make the students the primary focus. Steinkamp and the local teachers will teach together so the students learn vocabulary, text and grammar.
“We try to incorporate as many games and activities to engage the students in hopes that the students learn better English,” Steinkamp said.
Steinkamp said her students are the most rewarding part of her experience in Moldova. One story she told involved a seventh-grade student she taught.
“He cannot speak a word of English, and sits in the back where he is overlooked by his primary teacher,” Steinkamp said.
One day, the boy was moved to the front of the classroom.
“I am able to speak some Romanian, so he said he liked Harry Potter, and I told him I loved Harry Potter,” said Steinkamp. “He told me something in Romanian, but I couldn’t understand. ... He wrote what he said down on a piece of paper, but I still didn’t understand some of the words.”
The boy asked for a dictionary and translated some of the words Steinkamp didn’t know into English. The sentence read, “I like Harry Potter’s magical broom.”
“It may not seem like a lot, but he never took the initiative to speak English. For him to want so badly to say that to get a dictionary was so amazing. He hasn’t quite warmed up to me like the other students, so I knew he wouldn’t let me high-five him or hug him. So, instead, I did what every sane teacher does: I shot a make-believe spider web out of my hand because he likes Spider Man so much.”
“Throughout my life I have had many great influences to push me towards volunteering,” Steinkamp said. “St. Malachy was the start of it. Going to a private school, you learn how God wants you to treat people, which I think is important to learn as a child.”
In high school, Steinkamp became more involved, something she credits to Galen Zumbach, former agriculture and Future Farmers of America instructor. She was also part of Appalachia Service Project.
“While at Northwest, I did a short-term study abroad in Eastern Europe,” Steinkamp said. “I have always loved to travel, but I knew after visiting Europe that I wanted to do so much more.”
During student teaching, Steinkamp applied for teaching jobs. She was 21, and kept thinking, can “I start a job at 21, and work from eight to four, Monday through Friday, every week for the next 40 years?”
“It just didn’t seem right to me that I have one life to live, and I was going to do it by working for the rest of my life, and hope that I retire so then I could really do what I wanted,” said Steinkamp. “Why wait?”
Her love of volunteering, want to travel, teaching degree and desire to do more with her life led Steinkamp to sign up for the Peace Corps.
“So, I carpe diem-ed. I signed up for the Peace Corps,” Steinkamp said. “I have been carpe diem-ing ever since. Granted, it certainly hasn’t been easy, but it’s been the best challenge of my life. ... My outlook on life has changed so much, but it’s an incredible feeling that I can’t explain. I am so blessed that Moldova found me.”
Moldova is an Eastern European country wedged between Romania and Ukraine. It was part of the Soviet bloc until the early 1990s, when it gained independence.
Moldova is the poorest country in Europe.
“I live in the central part of Moldova, in a village called Costesti,” Steinkamp said. “My village is quite large with 13,000 people, but it’s a typical village with a few more paved roads and a couple more stores.”
Steinkamp lives with a host family in a two-story tiled house. The house has running water and electricity, but, like nearly every house in the country, it has an outhouse.
“The outhouse isn’t bad,” Steinkamp said. “My opinion of the not-so-bad outhouse changes in the winter, when I have to dress like I am hiking in the Arctic just to use the bathroom.”
Steinkamp said she likes to walk around the village and take photos, or talk to her host mom over a cup of tea. She is able to talk with family and friends on the Internet, and spends time with other volunteers in the capital city of Chisinau.
“Village life is so interesting, so walking around is always an adventure,” Steinkamp said. “Plus, Moldova is beautiful, so it never hurts to go for a walk.”