Spanish travel agent Antonio Caballos has been working for BYU for about 40 years.
Fifty years ago, Caballos started his career at a travel agency in Spain. Soon after, he founded his own travel agency, according to BYU Spanish professor — and close friend of Caballos’ — John Rosenberg.
Although he is currently retired, Caballos continues to take care of BYU study abroad programs in Spain.
“BYU is the one client that (Caballos) has continued to want to work with,” Rosenberg said.
His long career working as a travel agent saw Caballos on travel boards in Madrid and in the European community and has encouraged his learning of English, French, Portuguese and Italian.
Since he isn’t a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Caballos said he was initially exposed to the church and BYU because of a BYU student from Argentina who needed a travel agent in Spain. After that, the connection with BYU continued.
The study abroad programs that visit Spain work mainly through Caballos in scheduling things — he being the “point of contact,” according to Rosenberg.
BYU Spanish and Portuguese professor Gregory Stallings was the director of the Spring 2018 Spain study abroad program and said Caballos was “incredibly helpful” during the program.
“He has organized countless trips, activities and monument visits for us. If I give him an outline for a trip that I want for our students, he perennially surprises me with suggestions for rarely visited spots to possibly seek out on the way to and from our destination,” Stallings said. “The sites he recommends always turn out to be incredibly beautiful and historically informative.”
When the students arrive in Spain, Caballos takes them on a tour of Madrid to show them around the city. He’ll teach them a little about the history of Spain while showing them key sights in Madrid. He also helps them figure out the metro and bus systems and teaches them pointers for how to live and navigate in a big city.
“(Caballos) gives of himself in profound ways to the program. He often accompanies the students on their trips, (and) he takes care of directors and their families,” Rosenberg said. “He draws a great deal of satisfaction from his relationship with many of the faculty here at BYU and generations of BYU students, many of whom he still keeps in touch with.”
Rosenberg said Caballos’ help with the study abroad programs in Spain is invaluable because of the unique learning opportunities Caballos tries to provide for the students.
“(It goes) so far beyond just saying ‘here’s the cost of the bus’ or ‘here are the right hotels,'” Rosenberg said. “He is aware of festivals and cultural traditions, and he wants students to get to know the culture in both big sea and little sea — big sea is the art, the architecture, the music; the little sea is the food and the festivals and the way people actually live their life.”
Caballos said his relationship with BYU has been “fantastic” over the 40 years he’s been working with BYU. He said he traditionally receives information three months in advance, which helps him get good prices on hotels and enough time to plan activities and excursions.
Although desired activities will change based on the program advisors or the nature of the study abroad, Caballos said usually things are pretty similar each year in what the students want to do and see.
Rosenberg said Caballos’ expertise is greatly appreciated because directors can change from year-to-year. When a program director isn’t as experienced with Spain as others, Rosenberg said Caballos is a great mentor for them.
Stallings said Caballos would frequently call him to make sure activities and excursions went well.
“He always goes the extra mile for our programs, going out of his way to seek out the best hotels, monuments, restaurants, transportation or museums for us,” Stallings said.
In his 40 years working as a travel agent for BYU, Caballos said there hasn’t been any problems — security or otherwise. He will also often receive feedback from students who participate in a BYU study abroad in Spain who say they’ve enjoyed their experiences in Caballos’ home country.
“The program of BYU is fantastic. I know the programs of other universities in Spain, and BYU gives more to the students than any other university,” Caballos said. “They know — through the church — the inside of the Spanish society, and they visit almost all the most important things of the country, and, of course, they learn Spanish.”
Caballos said BYU does a great job with their study abroad programs, and not just the Spain study abroad program. He has helped with other programs, including an art program and a multimedia program.
“They work with me fantastically, and they do as much as possible to help the students and to help me also,” Caballos said.
According to Caballos, he has helped about 3,000 BYU students since working as a travel agent for BYU, and his favorite part of his work is forming relationships with the professors and students who go to Spain.
One of these relationships is with Rosenberg, who has worked with Caballos for 38 years, and not just in a BYU capacity.
“Well, it goes far beyond a professional relationship,” Rosenberg said. “I mean, he’s helped me arrange for professional travel in Spain for almost four decades.”
Rosenberg said Caballos has taught him so much about Spain and has become almost like family.
“He’s my daughter’s uncle, and he’s the big brother I never had,” Rosenberg said. “He’s a very, very dear and close friend to our family.”
When asked about his opinion on the church, Caballos said he knows many church members in Spain and even considers himself a “dry Mormon.”
Caballos said the focus on genealogy and missionary work in the church are things he likes most.
“He’s profoundly respectful of the church,” Rosenberg said. “He’s an avid genealogist and has spent a lot of time at the church genealogical library at the temple square in Madrid.”
Rosenberg said Caballos is “well-informed” and “well-connected” with the church in Spain.
“He is a devoted example of someone who endeavors to live in the Christian way,” Rosenberg said. “Though there are obvious differences in doctrine, what connects us is the attempt to come to understand Christ and to follow his example and his teachings and to always maintain the brightly burning hope that all sincere seekers of Christ will find him. And I think (Caballos) and I both have great optimism for each other in terms of that eventual encounter with our Savior.”
Caballos said he has traveled to 17 countries with various travel groups, but his relationship with BYU and with BYU students who visit Spain has been “real special.”
Rosenberg said Caballos does everything he can to help BYU students have the best experience they can have while in Spain.
“He is very proud of his country. He is very well-informed about its history and its culture and is very eager for students to be able to experience that as profoundly as they can,” Rosenberg said.
Stallings said many of the students on the Spring 2018 study abroad interviewed Caballos for part of their Madrid Walks course — the assignment required the students to interview native speakers. Stallings said many of his students reported learning so much after talking with Caballos.
“Talking to Antonio (Caballos) about Spain is like opening a marvelous, brilliantly colorful travel book,” Stallings said. “He absolutely loves sharing his expertise of Spain, especially its beautiful places to visit and its multiple cultural events, with our BYU students. (Caballos) is truly a treasure for our university.”
Once Caballos discontinues working as a travel agent for BYU Spain study abroad programs, Rosenberg said the programs will continue to progress, but the “personal attention and personal investment to faculty and to their students” will be hard to replace.
“Antonio has played an indispensable role in our Madrid study abroad program for some 40 years,” Stallings said. “When he finally retires from serving us, I doubt that we will ever find anyone as knowledgeable and caring as (him) for our Spain programs.”