Changing Lives Abroad: 9 Questions for a South Alabama Educator in Saudi Arabia

Photo courtesy: Katina Walton
For over a decade, Katina Walton taught students of all ages throughout Alabama. She made sure they excelled inside their classrooms. However, she also encouraged them to venture outside and experience the world as well as all of the unforgettable lessons it has to offer. Well, three years ago, the 44-year-old Prichard, Alabama native and mother of one took her own advice. Although she continues to shape young lives, she now does it more than 7500 miles away in Riyadh, Saudi, Arabia, donning an abaya while working as the Academic Vice Principal of Kindergarten at Kingdom International Schools.

She spoke with me, via email, about her new life overseas, which she began in October 2014.

What do you like the most about your new home?

The children. They are magnificent! They are learning to read and write in a minimum of two languages simultaneously. I love their innocence, and I love the fact that they have a genuine desire to know more about me and my culture.  

Had you ever traveled abroad in the past?

I had not ever traveled internationally in the past. I was a born and raised a Southern girl and never had the desire to deviate from that routine. In the past three years, I have traveled and vacationed in seven different countries and I love it! I think back to my past and regret not traveling sooner. The experience has made me a much better person. I appreciate the small things in life now, and realize that living a life pursuing things is not a fulfilling life. Living a life pursuing happiness, peace, and philanthropy is what truly makes me happy.   

Standing at the Edge of the World in Riyadh
Photo Courtesy: Katina Walton

How did your family and friends react when you told them you were taking a job in the Middle East?

The response was quite negative at first. People who had never traveled had horrible things to say. I would listen and tell them I appreciate the advice, but I am still going. At some point, I would just reply, think about the images that you see on television about people from the South. Is it true? Now, reverse that and think about the images you see about the Middle East, but keep remembering how you felt about the images that were put out to portray you. Now, give them the same courtesy.

What do you like the least?

Not being able to drive, and wearing an abaya.

How have you been received as an African American woman within the community?

I learned that the color of my skin did not matter to many of the people I interacted with on a daily basis. There are women from the Middle East who look exactly like me, but couldn't relate to me. That was a shock! After watching me for a few months and my interaction with others, they began to try to communicate with me. Their English was poor but my Arabic was worse! We would sit and have coffee and dates, and one person in the group would translate. After a few meals and socializing, I was greeted with three kisses on the cheek and a hug on a daily basis.

Touring an area mosque.
Photo courtesy: Katina Walton 

What do you do to learn more about your new community?

I am always opened to dinner in many of my associates homes. Their hospitality is just like Southern hospitality. We sit and ask questions about each others culture to gain a better understanding. I take tours, I interact with the expat community, and the kids are the best way to learn about the culture. They are very honest!

What have you learned about yourself during this experience so far?

I have learned to be more patient. I have become more humble, and appreciate family and friends even more now. 

One of Katina's newest friends, ZuZu.
Photo courtesy: Katina Walton
What’s next for you?

I am now seeking to relocate within a year. I want to teach in a different part of the world. My ultimate goal is to open an American curriculum school in Ghana.

Besides friends and family, what do you miss the most about Alabama (or the U.S. in general)?

Walmart! Target! (Lol!) Seriously!


Be sure to keep up with Katina by visiting her website - www.katinawalton.com

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