Taking a trip to Australia wasn’t enough for realtor Libby Pratt. She wanted to have the cultural understanding first-hand, begin a career and live abroad. What was supposed to be a few months ‘down under’ turned into nearly five years of living by the harbors in Sydney.
Chris and Sherri Pratt raised Libby and her twin brother James in an inclusive setting exposing their children to travel and appreciation of other cultures.
Libby says, “I was set on traveling since I was little. My parents took us to Mexico when we were teenagers and that sparked a big interest to see other cultures and to be in the middle of something that was foreign to me.”
After four years of cheerleading at Ooltewah High School, Libby went to UT Knoxville and considered a career in law. After graduating from UTK, Libby wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. The pressure of making a lifetime decision at age 22 was stifling and Libby felt the need to spread her wings and fly.
“I applied for a visa in France and for one in Australia,” Libby says. “I heard from Australia quickly, but the notification went to my mom’s email. I didn’t know it had been granted and I didn’t mention to my parents that I had even applied for one.”
Sherri approached her daughter and said, “What is this and who is going to Australia?” Libby discussed her desire to live abroad and in 2009, while the US economy struggled, Australia’s stronger economy made the adventure a sensible choice.
“Three months later, I was on a plane from Atlanta straight into Sydney. My parents were supportive, but they told me if I wanted to do this, I would have to do it on my own and generate my own income – yet they would be there for me if I needed them,” Libby says. “My main focus was to hit the ground running and it was up to me to make it work. I was fortunate to start a career over there and to travel.”
A friend had introduced Libby to another friend who happened to be a recruiter so that she would have someone to help facilitate her presence in Australia. Libby moved into an apartment flat and acquired a new-found liberation. A relationship budded between Libby and her new friend and she had the opportunity to travel to other places just months after moving to Sydney.
Most of the population did not own automobiles and Libby found a sense of freedom in walking to places.
“I could walk from my flat and be at the steps of the Opera House in 25 minutes. I also walked to work - you don’t need a car in Sydney. It was different at first, but it made for a good healthy lifestyle,” she insists. "Just being able to talk out of the flat and have a choice to go to five different beaches in the harbor was incredible and Sydney is such an outdoor active existence.”
Going to a café for breakfast and heading to the beach, walking around the Opera House or catching a ferry over to the zoo made for surreal moments.
“I remember walking to and from places and just smiling to myself thinking, ‘I can’t believe I am actually here and I am doing this and I am making it work’,” Libby smiles.
She can close her eyes and still remember the smell of the fresh salt air and the accents she would hear.
“The accents were definitely a little confronting at first, but when people heard me speak, it stopped traffic,” Libby chuckles.
“They never hear a Southern accent and the response I got was, ‘We only hear your accent in the movies,’ I got that all the time. They were fascinated and would say it was so cool that I was from the South,” she says.
Australia is a melting pot of many cultures and Libby would have dinner parties that consisted of guests who were Russian, German, English and South African.
“It was a whole mix and that was a beautiful thing to see while living there because I got exposed to so many different cultures,” she says.
Libby was able to attend a ballet at the Opera House, but a scene etched in her memory was celebrating New Year’s Eve on the water by the Opera House from a sailboat nodding alongside.
“Sydney’s firework display for New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest in the entire world, so that was one to mark off the bucket list,” Libby affirms.
Sydney is one of the first major cities to see the New Year and being on Sydney harbor for that production right on the water was something Libby will never forget.
“They were 14-16 hours between us (depending on DST) and quite often when I would call my mom in the evening, she would just be waking up. I would tell her, ‘Don’t worry about Thursday it is going to be a good day.’ I’d be going to sleep and they would be waking up on that Thursday,” Libby laughs.
Given the opportunity to work in-house legal at Deutsche Bank, Libby also dabbled in private wealth management and spent a few weeks on the trading floor.
A year later, Libby went to work with the firm of Allen and Overy primarily to start a financial services regulation and cross border regulation working with clients from Hong Kong, Singapore, London and New York, setting up their investment vehicles and making sure it complied with the cross border regulation.
“It was a huge time for that since we were coming off the whole global financial crisis and lending problems that branched out of the U.S. and ended up being a problem for everybody. I worked hard, but I got to travel all over the Asia-Pacific region - Bali, Thailand, Fiji and went to Europe and South Africa,” Libby says.
Libby went to Bali and Indonesia with her friend just a few months after she moved to Australia. Rich was from South Africa, but had traveled all over and had lived in Australia for eight years.
South Africa was a favorite place to explore and take in a safari. Libby also enjoyed getting to spend time in Fiji where she says the water is as clear as what you pour out of Fiji bottled water.
With a close group of friends, Libby and Rich went snorkeling with just flippers and a mask. Rich was trying to spear dogfish tuna that swam by when all of a sudden two bull-sharks sprang from the bottom of the ocean floor toward the tuna that was on the end of Rich’s spear.
“I think two of the other girls and I absolutely walked on water to get to the boat!” Libby peels with laughter. “That was really exciting and such a rush. I was naive thinking that it was just great!”
Libby also got to travel to the south of France, Antibes and to the Italian border. Her experiences over the years could not have been traded for attending law school.
“I was doing everything that I wanted to do with traveling and beginning a career, but I knew I wanted to come back to the states and it was the right time to do it,” Libby says.
Reaching a cross roads, Libby and her friend decided to end the romance and remain good friends.
“My whole career in Australia turned out to be a very big chapter in my life. Six months ago I contemplated coming back to the U.S. because I am very close with my family and, not being able to catch up over dinner on the weekends, started to get a little daunting after a while,” Libby admits.
She did a little traveling up north to New York, Atlantic City and Philadelphia and came back to Chattanooga after Christmas immediately jumping into real estate.
She attended school and got her real estate license and is currently with Real Estate Partners of Chattanooga.
“Now that the administration aspect is complete in getting my life set up, my focus is now on getting my business up and going. I attended the Home Show and got my first lead. I am working with two clients so it is looking up and I am excited,” Libby says.
“I loved being exposed to something different and realizing that the world is such an intimate place and there is so much to see and to do and to experience. I feel like I have just cracked open the top of what else there is to enjoy. I know I am not done traveling …I have only changed my base camp.”