Austin Swift on Big Sis Taylor's Rise to Stardom and Finding Support at Notre Dame After Their Mom's Cancer Diagnosis

"I was there when she was performing at karaoke contests with the same enthusiasm she now plays to stadiums full of her fans," Swift tells PEOPLE exclusively

Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty

Like brother, like sister.

As Austin Swift makes his foray into Hollywood, the budding actor hopes to remain level-headed and down-to-earth – something he’s watched big sister Taylor Swift do as she shot to superstardom through the years.

“When we were kids, I saw Taylor write songs every day for years when there was no one to play them to,” Swift, 24, who has a small role in the thriller I.T. (currently in select theaters), tells PEOPLE exclusively.

When Swift was in middle school, he spent his spring break in Nashville “watching her go door-to-door dropping off demo CD’s at labels that never called” in between trips to parks and museums, he recalls.

And though Taylor, 26, easily sells out multiple nights in the same city for her tours now, Swift “was there when she was performing at karaoke contests and in the corners of parties with the same enthusiasm she now plays to stadiums full of her fans,” he says.

“Having seen that example, how much goes in, how long it took … That’s always going to be bedrock for who I am and who I want to be,” he adds.

For more from Austin Swift, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Swift graduated from the University of Notre Dame last year where he studied film, but “I felt like I learned a lot about life beyond just how to edit film or do stage makeup,” he says.

RELATED VIDEO: Taylor Swift Revisits Her Farm Days While Gardening with Her Parents

After mom Andrea’s cancer diagnosis was publicly revealed, “an ocean of people rose up around me to offer support and open up about their own experiences,” he says of getting through the difficult time with the help of his classmates.

Adds Swift: “People were there for me and it transformed what could have been a very lonely, impossible time. I’ll never forget that.”

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