With spouses, children and jobs to juggle, adults pursuing college degrees usually see study abroad — increasingly recommended for traditional undergraduates — as a distant dream.

But the non-traditional students at University of Richmond's School of Continuing Studies can participate in international education by taking a course that includes a week-long component at Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico’s leading private university.

Sensitive to adult students' challenge of balancing academics, career and family, the school recently offered two semester-long courses with a classroom-online hybrid structure that provides maximum flexibility. Then, the seven-day trip gave students brief but intense immersion in Mexican culture and business.

The two classes — Human Resource Management in Latin America and Introduction to Mexican History, Culture and Business — served degree-seeking students from the human resources management, leadership studies and liberal arts departments. Ability to speak Spanish was not required, but Patricia Strait, professor of human resource management, offered Spanish language preparation that would help students get the most out of the journey.

Strait says the importance of offering study abroad to adult degree-seeking students is intensified by the fact that they are already living and working in a global marketplace.

"Many of our adult students encounter customers and employees who speak other languages and come from other countries," she says. However, fewer than half of them had ever traveled outside the United States.

Through lectures by Mexican faculty, visits to businesses and excursions to historic sites, the students were introduced to labor laws in Latin America. They were surprised by distinct gender roles still observed in the Mexican workplace, as well as some companies' choice to pay employees seven days of wages for a six-day work week.

A meeting with U.S. consular officials explained the reality and the hype about dangers to Americans abroad and encouraged students to explore job opportunities internationally.

"Several of my students told me that they had never considered looking outside Virginia, and now some from the group are pursuing further international education and employment," Strait says.

The School of Continuing Studies plans to offer at least one international study opportunity every spring, given the positive response of the inaugural trip's students.

"Students are already contemplating who they prefer as roommates," says Strait, who is scheduled to lead a student group to Spain in spring 2011.