Oi! My name is Austin Leigh Cook, but most people know me as Austin Leigh Grant. I am so ecstatic and so grateful to be spending next year studying abroad in Brazil!
My road to becoming a Rotary Youth Exchange Student all started back in September 2009 when I went to the RYE Assembly during first period with my Spanish class. I remember being so drawn in by the presentation that the whole rest of the school day my mind was stuck on preparing a “pitch” to my parents on why I need to apply. That evening my parents and I stood around the island in our kitchen discussing the exchange program but we decided it was not the best time for me.
That year three of my friends applied and were accepted. As each year passed I learned more about and grew closer to this amazing program. I got to know the many wonderful inbounds that came to not only my high school but to the district of 6970 as a whole. I also got to see many of my friends go off as outbounds and witness, when they returned, how they had changed in such a positive way.
The pivotal point in my decision to apply occurred in July of 2012 when one of my friends, who had just come back from her exchange year, posted a desperate message on Facebook asking for someone to host one of the three inbounds in our area for the first semester of the following school year. With only a few weeks before school would start, none of them had a host family to come live with yet and without a host family their exchanges could not have happened. Knowing how devastated I would be if after months of hard work and preparations, I was told that I could not go on my exchange because no host family could be found for me, I knew I had to help.
My family ended up being blessed with hosting Dasha from Russia for the first semester, we really became close. (Unfortunately in a couple of weeks I will have to see my sister move on to another host family, which I know will be a difficult day for the both of us.) The experience of hosting (even though it is not always flowers and sunshine) made me realize just how badly I wanted to be able to experience another culture first hand though exchange, like all the wonderful students I had meet did. That time when I brought up applying for the exchange program, it took no convincing of my parents, they knew too that this program was for me and that it was my time. After two interviews and a long application, I received an email of acceptance! I had been yearning to have the opportunity to be an outbound since that September day when I first learned of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program.
After over four years it is now finally my time to embrace a year studying abroad. I look forward to immersing myself in the Brazilian culture (playing some Futebol!) and learning Portuguese no matter how difficult it may be at times, as well as sharing the customs of the United States of America with the people I met in Brazil. Overall I look forward to the lifelong friends I will make and the self-change that will happen within me while I am there.
I am currently a senior at Ponte Vedra High School, GO SHARKS! In school, I really enjoy math, economics, and theatre. I plan on becoming a doctor or engineer, but whatever my profession is I look forward to giving back to the community as much as I can. I like to volunteer and raise money for various charities, such as The American Cancer Society. I spend almost all my free time on music: listening to it, searching for new songs, and of course dancing and singing alone to it! I also love animals, nature, and architecture; which I take a lot of photos of. (I foresee thousands and thousands of pictures being taken while I am in Brazil.)
I am originally from New Jersey but I moved to Florida when I was ten years old. Now, I live in sunny Ponte Vedra Beach with my amazing Mom, Sharon, the only true father I’ve ever known, my wonderful Step-Dad Scott, and my very adorable little six year old brother, Xander. We have two dogs, Luke (named after Luke Wilson, Luke Skywalker, and Cool Hand Luke) and Fleur (named after the French word for flower). Luke is a big sweetie, he is a Gordon Setter, Golden Retriever mix who we rescued and Fleur is a tiny three and a half pound Chihuahua who is just as sweet and loves to give kisses. I know I will miss my family and dogs while I am away but I cannot wait to live in Brazil…is it August yet!?!