WORTHINGTON — For the first time since Worthington and Crailsheim, Germany, began sending students across the Atlantic Ocean to experience life, language and culture in their sister city, the exchange program is being forced to take a one-year hiatus due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Travel restrictions between the United States and Europe because of the pandemic, combined with a planned hybrid learning model in District 518 this fall, led the exchange committee in Crailsheim to make the decision to delay the program for one year. The plan is for Worthington’s Michael Bustamante to spend the 2021-22 school year in Crailsheim, while Luis Hemmings may travel to Worthington for a much abbreviated visit next summer.

“Luis decided not to go to Worthington for the exchange year because he would like to do the different kinds of sports … and there won’t be ‘real school’ and no sports. There will be a lot of homeschooling,” said Carola Schnabl, a member of the Crailsheim committee and 1985-86 exchange student to Worthington.

“We also think this makes an exchange year different," Schnabl said. "When you can go to school and (participate in) school sports, you get to know people and you can make many friends. This is not possible with homeschooling.”

Hemmings is unable to delay his exchange for a year because of his schooling and required exams.

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“Luis feels very sorry that this exchange year is so different because of Corona,” Schnabl added. “Maybe Luis can come to Worthington next year for some weeks in the summer, when we find host families for him.”

Bustamante, meanwhile, will simply delay his one-year exchange to Crailsheim until the summer of 2021, spending his junior year in the sister city.

“I feel like, for me as the exchange student, I’ll have a better experience next year because hopefully there’s a vaccine for the virus,” Bustamante said. “If I can go to school and go around without having to worry about putting on a mask or social distancing, that will be better.”

Current exchange student Emelie Düll returned home to Crailsheim on July 11, and Mariah Hennings will leave Crailsheim on Thursday and return to Worthington on Friday.

“Both Emelie and Mariah were asked in March if they would like to go home earlier,” Schnabl said. “Both girls wanted to stay ... to finish the school year. That was just great, that this worked well with everything.”

Jason Johnson, president of the Worthington-Crailsheim International committee, said while it is disappointing to break with tradition, Bustamante will get to have his year as an exchange student.

“With the virus, everyone thinks it would be better to hold off a year,” Johnson said. Besides, no one knows when the travel restrictions will be lifted.

“The only place Americans can go right now is to Mexico," Johnson added.

This is the first time since 1956 that neither Crailsheim nor Worthington is able to send an exchange student.

“Obviously, everybody’s disappointed that it can’t take place this year,” Johnson said.

“Corona makes everything difficult this year,” Schnabl added.