His first trip overseas was to Kenya. It was over 7,700 miles from his home in Detroit, and he was only 17 years old.

In between his junior and senior years of high school, Zach Elwart spent three months in Kenya with a childhood friend, his camera by his side.

He had expected it to be hot, and it was, but Zach was surprised to see that Kenya was full of diverse landscapes — deserts, mountains, jungles, valleys, even massive crowds and skyscrapers in Nairobi.

Zach found the sheer variety in the country stunning. It left him wanting to discover the world even more.

He hiked Mount Kenya, the second tallest mountain in Africa, over the course of five days. Each day included seven to 10 hours of hiking, dinner, and bed, but it was fulfilling in a way Zach hadn’t experienced before.

On the final day of trekking, at sunrise, Zach pushed on to the top. The view from 16,500 feet turned him into a climber, always searching for the next peak.

He went on safari and witnessed animals existing in the wild for the first time in his life. From behind his camera lens, he captured lions lounging in trees, hippos rolling in shallow waters, and long-necked giraffes peeking through the branches.

When two lions walked by, only feet from his car, or when a monkey jumped in through an open window and grabbed a banana, Zach witnessed the powerful, unpredictable nature of animals in their natural environment. It changed him, made him respect wildlife in a way he hadn’t before.

He went to Kenya knowing it would make an impact, but not knowing to what extent. Not knowing the way it would make him hungry for more experiences around the world, or how the people he met would stay with him long after his departure.

For three months, Kenya opened Zach’s eyes to what the world held, and shaped and molded him into the person he is today.

See more of Zach’s photography on Instagram.