To say Marina Iakovleva is a well-traveled individual would be an understatement.
Born in Moscow, Marina and her family moved to Canada when she was twelve years old. She then spent the next twenty years of her life there before moving to Portugal last year.
“I wanted a simple life,” she tells me via Zoom. “North America has wonderful things, but it also has some problems. In Canada, with Toronto especially, it’s all about work, the weather is horrible, and the mindset is the same.”
She chose Portugal over other popular destinations because the country presented an opportunity for her to focus on Dating Beyond Borders and her other ventures.
“It would have been easier to move to Spain, but they have enough tourists as it is, and Portugal so far seems more open to new people,” Marina explains. “There’s also a huge community of entrepreneurs here in Lisbon.”
While a lot of people recognize Marina as being the mastermind behind Dating Beyond Borders, not many know that she didn’t always have her sights set on creating one of the most popular dating shows on the internet.
Even a few years ago, Marina was still teaching high school English. She says she liked being a teacher, but that the job didn’t fulfill her.
“I would never wake up super excited about my job. I would never spend nights creating something, like I’m doing now,” she says.
That’s why Marina spent so many years moonlighting as a YouTuber, well before the 520,000 subscribers and millions of views her channel has amassed.
But Marina never imagined Dating Beyond Borders becoming the admired show that it is today.
In fact, she first began creating content simply because she found the idea of international dating fascinating, and since she had spent so much time abroad, there was no better way to start than to use her own experiences as a baseline.
“I ended up traveling abroad and meeting a lot of people, and I ended up writing about all my experiences. Not a lot of people know this, but I started a blog under a different name,” she begins. “A couple years after I started the blog, I got an idea to make videos where I would ask a bunch of guys all around the world different questions about dating.”
It was while teaching English at a high school in Panama that Marina made her first video, a nineteen-minute piece entitled Men Around the World on Dating & Attraction.
Marina terms the video “horrible” but says that she leaves it up on YouTube, not for views, but as a reminder of just how far she has come since she first posted that video seven years ago.
That was August 22, 2013.
Since then, the road to YouTube success has been littered with challenges.
“The first couple years were dreadful,” says Marina. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was making a bunch of terrible videos because I didn’t understand style. I didn’t have equipment. I had no video background whatsoever. People would tell me in the comments to stop making videos, but I kept going. I really enjoyed the subject and I realized that there was nothing on YouTube that talked about dating around the world.”
“There was traveling, trying different types of food when you travel, museums, etc., but people travel to get to know other people, to find a fling or love. All that is what pushed me to keep going.”
As Marina’s channel slowly evolved, so too did her content. She began using actors who were willing to volunteer their time, and even today, she continues to run her operation as if it were still in its infancy.
“I still do 90% of the work when it comes to casting and booking locations. Some people do reach out, but they’re not the people I would always want to cast because I have a certain image in mind when I’m casting. It helped that in Toronto a lot of people I knew were good because that’s what makes a video entertaining, is having funny people.”
But despite now having a global audience and enough income to run a professional crew, Marina is still recruiting talent to become a part of her show. That’s because while her content has been performing well, it still hasn’t given her the platform to land household names for roles in her shows.
“Even today, the channel is still a lot of work,” Marina admits.
Chief among the many things Marina has learned along her journey as a YouTuber is that criticism is inevitable when you’re in the spotlight.
While she is accustomed to being targeted by overzealous keyboard warriors, it wasn’t until she started a series that focused on what it was like to date men and women from specific countries that the pushback intensified.
And as Dating Beyond Borders began to pump out more content and gain notoriety, Marina experienced a rapid uptick in disapproval.
“I’ll be very, very honest,” Marina says. “A lot of the videos that I filmed I wish I could redo, and I want to redo them because I took the route of quantity over quality. People were pushing me to make new episodes and I would work fast to meet the demand, but in hindsight I would have spread them out more and focused on exactly what kind of message I wanted to convey.”
Even though every country portrayed in Marina’s videos had their fair share of critics, there was only one that drew an overwhelming influx of ire from its subjects.
That video’s title:
You Know You’re Dating an Italian Man When…
Says Marina of that video and its subsequent response:
“In the Italian episode, some YouTube channel shared it with a bunch of Italians. Most Italians don’t speak English, so I was unsure how they were understanding the video, but a lot of the comments for that video said the stereotypes were way wrong. Italy is a tough place to depict because you have the north and the south, and they’re very different.”
To be fair, it’s not like Marina isn’t diligent in doing her homework before making a video.
She tells me that before each idea is conceptualized and brought to production, she goes through an elaborate process of consulting with people from specific countries, doing her own research, posting on expat groups, and brainstorming with the actors who have been cast.
She also is very calculated in which countries she depicts.
“I try to focus on countries that I know more about, so for example, when people ask me why I haven’t featured much of Africa, it’s because I’ve never been to Africa. It’s very hard for me to focus on a country I know nothing about,” she says.
This is also why many of her videos are based around European and Middle Eastern countries, two places she has spent extensive time in. She now lumps each of those geographical hubs into their own groups because of their respective cultural similarities.
“If it’s a video about the Middle East, I know that certain things are true for all Middle Eastern countries, like the idea of status and showing what you have. That’s completely different from Scandinavian countries, where the idea is that status is not important and you shouldn’t brag about those kinds of things,” she shares.
Marina adds that because many European or Middle Eastern countries are similar to their neighbors, the challenge then is finding the subtleties between them in order to give her audience a new perspective.
“The difficulty is also in choosing how you want to show these stereotypes because you don’t want to repeat yourself, and some of the ideas are abstract, so you have to find a way to present the content in a way that people can relate to it,” she says.
At present, Dating Beyond Borders continues to churn out weekly content to satiate their devout YouTube subscribers. Marina says this will continue, but also mentions that she has begun exploring other mediums as a way to stimulate her creativity.
“I’m trying to branch out into writing books. Right now, I’m writing a guide to dating in Scandinavia,” she reveals.
With contacts back home in Canada, as well as in Asia, Marina’s hope is that she could be less involved in the production process of Dating Beyond Borders.
“I want to do more than just videos, and for the videos my ultimate goal would be to have an actual team of people creating them. I realize I can’t be around for every video. I don’t like Buzzfeed, but I like the idea of having more than one person make videos. In the long run, that would be my goal, but that’s hard to execute,” she says.
It’s that type of self-awareness and ability to plan for the future that will likely keep Dating Beyond Borders popping up on recommended pages throughout YouTube for years to come.
Marina says she’s grateful for the platform YouTube has afforded her, especially because not too many years ago she was stagnating around 3,000 subscribers.
“I remember feeling that getting to 5,000 would be impossible,” she says with a laugh.
But once she created the series that chronicled what it was like to date people from different countries, things began to change.
“That series gave people something to ask for. They loved the format and they started requesting which specific countries they wanted to see covered next,” she shares, noting the difference between her series and the random videos that were not part of a bigger narrative. “You have to give people a concrete set of series.”
“People don’t know what they want until you give it to them, but you give them a series that they like and then they get more involved.”
Dating Beyond Borders reached 100,000 subscribers within a year of starting the series, and while the channel still sees steady growth, its rapid ascension has slowed.
“Unfortunately, YouTube does play tricks on us. Algorithms change all the time, so you can grow extremely fast and then it can really slow down, and right now it’s been slowing down for a while. It’s the same for other YouTubers I know. They change one thing and then it feels like it’s back to square one,” Marina explains.
And yet, despite her hectic schedule and eye toward what’s next, Marina is still able to reflect on just what a crazy journey she has been on.
When asked which Dating Beyond Borders video is her favorite, she doesn’t hesitate.
“The videos filmed on location,” she says. “It’s important when you’re dating that you’re also seeing the country. That brings more to the viewing experience than a video that is filmed in Canada. I want people to feel a part of something when they watch my videos.” QS
Check out more of Dating Beyond Borders by visiting their YouTube channel today!
Looking for a new book to read?
Pick up Quentin Super’s first novel, The Long Road North
Quentin Super is also a ghostwriter.
Curious about what exactly a ghostwriter does?