Meet the American YouTuber who's winning hearts across the Czech Republic

From English teacher to influencer, a California native lets us in on the secrets of her Czech success.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 04.03.2022 18:00:00 (updated on 04.03.2022) Reading time: 11 minutes

Like most expats California native Jennifer Preston headed to the Czech Republic to teach English and sample the European lifestyle. But what began as a somewhat typical Prague experience took an interesting turn that would lead to a full-time career as a color commentator on Czech culture through American eyes.

With her YouTube channel Dream Prague garnering some 60K+ fans, Preston has become the most recognizable face of expat life in Czechia and a successful businesswoman along the way. She shared with us her vlogging secrets and insights for living a happy life as a foreigner in the Czech Republic during these difficult times.

You're a natural on camera. Do you have any previous on-screen experience?

Thank you! I think you're probably saying that based on more recent videos, as the early ones are a bit cringe-worthy to watch. But no, I didn't have on-screen experience when I started other than filming my own videos for some online English courses I'd created the year prior.

Where are you from in California and what compelled you to head to Czechia?

I was born in the Bay Area and grew up in Los Angeles. Coming to Prague was pretty random. My husband and I had lived in Japan for three years due to his work. When he was finishing that work, we realized that after living abroad, we would be totally bored moving back to California. So we decided to try Europe, and Prague seemed like a bold choice. I'd never been here, but he had visited for 3 days in 1999 and never stopped raving about it. We chatted about it over a bottle of wine. By the last glass, he'd bought me a ticket to come here, take a TEFL course, find a flat and a job and then give him the "okay" to pack the cat and move over.

PRIVATE PROPERTIES

Apartment for rent, 3+kk - 2 bedrooms, 180m<sup>2</sup>

Apartment for rent, 3+kk - 2 bedrooms, 180m2

Na Doubkové, Praha 5 - Smíchov

Apartment for sale, 3+kk - 2 bedrooms, 97m<sup>2</sup>

Apartment for sale, 3+kk - 2 bedrooms, 97m2

Květoslava Mašity, Všenory

Apartment for sale, 1+1 - Studio, 45m<sup>2</sup>

Apartment for sale, 1+1 - Studio, 45m2

Haštalské náměstí, Praha 1 - Staré Město

Photo jen
Jen with husband "Honza" and dog Tobík in the Krkonoše mountains. (Photo: Jen Preston)

Name one thing that's better about life here and one thing that's better there.

There's a patina on everyday life in a grand European capital that makes every trip down the street more interesting. There's history on every corner, in every doorway. I see an older person walking the streets and think, "My God, the things you must have seen here in 80 years." Inconveniences that would irritate me back home are simply thought-provoking here.

Hmm...Why did that man think he could cut me in line? How interesting—I wonder if he has some deep-rooted hostility towards foreigners? Or women? Or blondes?' I love being a casual observer."

I also love the mixed-use zoning of Prague and the fact that I never need a car to get what I need. The US has better beaches. And mountains.

Give us some insights on the growth of your social channels since you started.

About 4 months into my channel, I made a video "Americans are Strange" (from the perspective of a seasoned expat). I recorded it in Czech, and looking back, my Czech was so awful! The video went viral and is still my most viewed, I think it might have 600K views right now. I was getting 1,000 new subscribers a day for a few weeks after that and it got my channel monetized. I've got about 62,000 subscribers now, though I've mostly stopped focusing on subscribers, views, etc. YouTube metrics are a hedonic treadmill that will kill your creativity.

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Did you ever expect Dream Prague to take off as it has?

I did not anticipate that so many Czech people would watch. I originally started the channel as a place to give tips and lessons to incoming expats about life in Prague, and perhaps encourage Americans to put Prague on their list of top European cities to visit. I still don't really get why Czechs are interested, though it has changed my focus a bit. I try to make videos that I think will appeal to both audiences. 

What is your motivation for helping people move to the Czech Republic for free? Any success stories to share (e.g. you helped someone realize a dream to live here)?

The info in my free How to Move to Prague course is fairly basic, from a seasoned expat's perspective, so I didn't think it was worth charging for. But looking at it from a potential expat or "newbie's" perspective, it contains all the info that took us months and months to search for and figure out.

So I guess in that way it's quite helpful. I had originally planned to flesh it out to a paid course, but honestly, I don't know if I'll ever find the time! I do get lovely messages from people who said they've learned a lot from my course and channel. I'm glad their move was made a little bit easier!

Has your YouTube channel helped open up new career avenues? Any interesting collaborations or projects to come out of it?

My Dream Prague channel is now my full-time work and I've met a lot of interesting people through it! The income comes from YouTube Adsense, my partnership with Seznam Stream (where my videos are also hosted), and paid sponsorships from companies I collaborate with. I've done some spokesperson work for Integrační Centrum Praha and some voiceover work as well. It's all a lot of fun! I was totally that kid who hung out with the thespians in high school but would never have dreamed of being on stage. Weird where life takes you!

Take us through a day in the life of an expat influencer. How do you source content? Do you get requests and input from viewers? 

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I get content ideas just walking around the city. I get a ton of input and requests from viewers, and yes those requests have definitely made it into videos! 

I am a bit of a workaholic, but it's very easy to get distracted when you're your own boss and you work from home. When I'm able to batch process videos (for example, write three scripts in a day, film three talking head shoots in a few days, edit three videos over the course of one week, etc.) then my workflow is a lot easier. But lately, I've lacked that discipline. 

I try to be an English-language window into Czech culture and the Czech mentality, so my main goal is to be as honest and thorough as I can. If I ever mislead foreigners about this country and this culture, then I'm happy to get pushback from the Czechs.

-YouTuber Jennifer Preston (Dream Prague)

So, Mondays and Tuesdays I conceptualize and write the script. Wednesday I shoot the A-roll and try to go out and get B-roll footage of the city if necessary. On Thursdays and Fridays, I do a first-round edit, which finalizes the timing of the video. I then create the English subtitles and send them to my Czech subtitler. Once the video goes to her, I can't change any of the timing because the subtitles would be off, so I'm always racing to finish by Friday afternoon. If I have a sponsor, I'll send them the draft video for approval.

I do final edits on the weekend, which means adding graphics, selecting music, adding B-roll footage, etc. The thumbnail design, SEO research and uploading process usually bleed into the following week. The final upload usually happens a few hours before it goes live on Wednesday. Then of course there's a lot of admin to deal with. Recently, YouTube hit me with a copyright claim for my film review of "Pelíšky" even though it should be considered "fair use" since it's a film review. So time gets spent on figuring out how to fight that claim. Always a new challenge!

Czech people have obviously responded well to your insights on their culture. Has anyone ever taken issue with any of your observations? 

Yes, there are a few who take issue with my observations, and I have zero problems with that. I am, after all, passing judgments on an entire culture, so I'm never going to get it right. Over the years, I've learned to make less sweeping observations and to narrow my comparisons from "US v. Czechia" to "Los Angeles v. Prague." I try to be an English-language window into Czech culture and the Czech mentality, so my main goal is to be as honest and thorough as I can. If I ever mislead foreigners about this country and this culture, then I'm happy to get pushback from the Czechs.

Many creatives I've interviewed lately have said that delving into their work got them through the lockdown. Were you more prolific during this time period?

I started the channel 4 months before the pandemic, so yes I think I was pretty creative during this awful time! At the onset of the pandemic, my husband and I were in Germany and got stuck there for an additional 2 months. We couldn't cross the border back to Czechia. So I kind of panicked as my channel had just taken off and I wasn't even in the country I was making videos about! We had some fun with it, and did some videos that reflected our predicament, like "Americans Celebrating Czech Easter in Germany," etc.

The dynamic visuals are one of the most striking things about your videos. Start to finish how long does it take you to put together a video?

Thanks! It's nice that you notice that. It takes astonishingly long to complete a 15-minute video, and every week I ask myself "How am I not quicker at this by now?" The length of time it takes to produce varies, depending on what type of video it is.

I worked on the script of the "COVID: We're #1!" video for weeks and weeks and I never felt it hit the right tone. Once I got the tone right, the filming took 2 days, but the editing took only a couple of hours because each scene had been so meticulously prepared and shot. My "Prague Dog Takeover" video was filmed over the course of a month (difficult lead actor) and I didn't really have a plot until I reviewed the footage so the editing was a nightmare that probably took 40 hours.

Interviews or "out on the town" videos take no time to script, but then the editing takes longer because I have to figure out "What's the story here?" You can't just upload footage of a pretty city. There has to be a story. Talking head or listicle videos (e.g., 10 things "I hate about Prague supermarkets" or something like that) are quite easy to write and quick to film but depending on the detail of the graphics or B-roll footage, the editing can take up to 20 hours.

The common wisdom among video creators says it takes an hour of editing for every minute of footage and I find that to be accurate.

Any advice to people out there with aspirations to vlog? Are your skills self-taught? 

Yes my tech skills are self-taught, if you don't count going to YouTube University! I learn everything I need to know about cameras, editing software, or why my mic won't work, etc. on YouTube. And yes! I have so much advice for an aspiring vlogger! 

1st hard truth: No one wants to watch videos about you (or, frankly, me). That means your channel should not be: "Hi I'm Jen and I have a cool life. Wanna watch me?" You have to pick a topic to become an expert on. You have to choose a niche and stick with it—for years. A narrow niche. I say this to the aspiring vlogger with the utmost compassion, because I have to tell myself this all the time. Some days I have nothing new to say about Prague, and I really just want to make a video about running or crafting or my thoughts on rising student debt in America. But that's not what Dream Prague is about. People don't care about me personally, they care about what I have to say about the experience of being a foreigner in Prague.

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2nd tip: You have to be really interested in your niche to keep up this pace of content creation. Come up with 50 video ideas before you start, and if you can't think of that many...it means you won't last a year. I worked at this pace for a full year before I made a single Czech crown of profit. If you want to start a hobby vlog, then go forth and create, my friend! I fantasize about making a personal vlog someday and sharing all my daily thoughts. I just won't count on it to make any money or attract a very big audience.

3rd tip: Don't worry about having the highest-end equipment. I've been filming on my iPhone with a mini-Rode mic lately because it's just easier. Get in front of a window and you don't need lighting. I wasted so much time watching Peter McKinnon and other cinematographer channels when I didn't even know how to use basic editing software. Learn how to tell a compelling story that will hold someone's attention. You'll get more tech-savvy as you go and your viewers will love seeing you grow and improve!

You call your husband "Honza" in the videos. Does he have Czech roots?

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Actually, he's American. We just call him 'Honza' in the videos. His great grandfather was Czech and emigrated in the 1800s to Nebraska. We joke about how the one thing we can't give advice about on the channel is dating Czech men and women. To je škoda.

As many of us struggle with being able to travel home and or host family in the midst of Covid, what is your secret for finding happiness as a long-term expat in the Czech Republic?

Our secret to finding happiness here is treating each challenge as an adventure. I will never be 100% at home here. That would ruin the fun! Our joy comes from getting back from errands and telling each other, "You wouldn't believe what happened to me in line at the úřad!" and then laughing about this funny life we've found ourselves in. That's how we keep the adventure fresh. 

For more videos subscribe to Dream Prague on YouTube or follow Jen on Instagram.

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