Rob Sharpe is a rolling stone, a free spirit who has finally found his place in life on the sunny shore of the Bay of Banderas teaching English to the world from PV.
Sharpe, who turns 60 this year, was “one of those guys” back in the ‘60s. You know, the guy who jumped on his motorcycle and crisscrossed the country and only touched down once in a while to tell tall tales of his adventures to those who lived more conventional lives.
He was born in San Diego at Sharpe Memorial Hospital (no relation) to a NASA computer engineer – who designed software for the Apollo and Saturn projects in the 1960s – and a homemaker. The family lived in Florida for a while before moving to the Washington D.C. area for Sharpe’s high school years. He became emancipated at age 16 when his parents divorced but got his diploma at Falls Church, Virginia before heading out on the highway looking for adventure.
“I worked literally hundreds of jobs for almost 10 years,” Sharpe said, “from juggling to acrobatics to working in a psychiatric halfway house. I stopped running when I was 28 and met a woman in Seattle who was well educated. She influenced me to go back to school.”
Sharpe enrolled at Seattle Central Community College and graduated with an AA degree in sign language interpretation in 1987.
“I met just an absolutely wonderful woman who was one of the most respected sign language interpreters in the country,” he said. “I learned so much from her. I became a sign language interpreter and deaf blind specialist, which allowed me to earn enough money to enroll at the University of Washington to earn my degree in English.”
After graduation in 1991, Sharpe started a business with a woman who had been managing the band he was in. Together, they formed a new business called Cecilia Sharpe, which represented photographers and illustrators from all over the world.
“We were like agents,” Sharpe said. “I had a portfolio and would visit graphic artists and advertising agencies in Seattle to get business for our clients.”
But the lure of big money brought Sharpe to San Francisco in 1998 to work in the copier industry as a digital color specialist, which brought him a six-figure income until the dot-com crash of 2001.
“It was pretty terrible,” Sharpe said, “but by then I had met and married my wife Marvy. She was a cosmetologist from Mexico and had a six-year-old son. After the crash, business died and we relocated to Houston where the cost of living was much cheaper. I started my own business called Texas Copiers, which was very successful.”
In 2009, a chain of events, beginning with Sharpe’s cancer diagnosis – he is now cancer free – and his mother’s ill health, led them from Houston to Corning, New York and then to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where they spent a year before deciding to move to Mexico, an easy choice because Sharpe’s wife had family in Cancún.
“I’m a very liberal, open-minded person and I really like diversity,” he said. “I love all types of cultures and found Harrisburg to be incredibly sterile. The move to Mexico was a good decision for us.”
After landing in Cancún in 2014, Sharpe decided to use his English degree to teach English as a second language online. He received his Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification through the Cambridge University online program and set to work building his business.
“I work online with italki.com, which is based in China,” Sharpe said. “I freelance with them and they take a 15 percent commission. People pay through the site and if they like your video, they contact you. They buy credits and however much money they accrue they can buy either my classes, which are US$20 an hour, or somebody else who charges less. It’s up to them. When they contact me, I teach the class. It’s already paid for and guaranteed because the funds are already in the company and at the end of the month italki.com issues me a check.”
Sharpe told us that his video receives lots of views because people say he speaks clearly, has a good accent and is older, which, they believe, equates to more knowledge. He also does work for a Russian school. It pays less but has a more consistent flow of students.
“I also have my own website, Sharpe English,” he said. “It has animation, pronunciation videos, quizzes, a PayPal payment option and booking calendars. It’s developing but I need to spend a lot more time optimizing it.”
His busy season generally is December through April when he works about 35 hours a week. The other months he often works as little as 15 hours a week but that is changing as his business grows. When he is not teaching, he works on marketing his website.
“My long-term goal is to develop pre-recorded courses with videos,” Sharpe explained. “People like my voice and the way I teach, so I’m going to do video with downloadable PDFs on different topics, almost like a podcast or an eBook. I’m going to merge them as a course so if you want to work on verb tenses, for example, you can easily get it. It may cost a hundred bucks, but there may be 10 sections that you can download, watch and then do your homework.”
Not happy with Cancún’s lifestyle, Sharpe and his wife moved to León, the largest city in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, after a year of living in the international resort city.
“León was great because we rented a huge three-bedroom and four-bathroom home for the equivalent of about US$300 per month,” he said.
But after a year, the peripatetic couple was on the move again, this time to Puerto Vallarta on the Bay of Banderas.
“Although we liked León, Marvy and I decided to move to PV sight unseen,” he told us. “Last July we packed everything up and moved to a private community located a bit north of Puerto Vallarta. It has a guard, a swimming pool and is very quiet. We have a couple of bedrooms in a nice, safe environment for about US$350 a month. And, Importantly, since I make my living online, we have a stable 10 MBPS Internet connection.”
Since fishing and outdoors life are important to the couple, PV seems to be a perfect fit.
“We have made friends with a guy who owns a boat,” Sharpe said, “and he gives us a really fair price to go fishing. When we don’t catch anything, he jumps overboard with his spear gun and pops up two minutes later with fish for our dinner.”
The couple lives a quiet life along the bay, cooking at home or going to local family-owned restaurants. They tend to avoid the tourist places and spend most of their time with Mexican friends.
“Our neighbors are a lovely Mexican couple in their early 70s,” he said. “They speak English and the husband and I usually play guitar in the evening together. He sings beautiful old Mexican songs.”
More than anything else, Sharpe loves Mexico because he can walk down the street, smile and say “Buenos Dias!” to everyone he passes and receive a warm response.
“They are really good people,” he said. “I feel more comfortable around the people of Mexico than anyone else. They have a great culture.”