Author Shawn Huff, original in Finnish: Oppeja ammattilaisuralta (

His years as a professional basketball player taught Shawn Huff a lot about Europe, its history and cultures, but above all about his own Finnishness.

As a professional basketball player, you get to learn from a wide variety of countries and cultures.

I first worked as a young basketball player in Greece, the cradle of Western culture. During my years in Greece, I discovered, above all, how straightforwardness can be a virtue. Disagreements were settled immediately, loudly and often unemphatically. As quickly as the crisis began, it was sorted out. Ten minutes later, we drank coffee and laughed together.

To the young Finn, the Greek way of life looked like chaos. If the team’s bus was scheduled to leave at 15:00, it meant that people gathered to sit in the café next door and catch up. The bus left maybe 15:30. In Greece, I got used to everything being done in its own time.

After Greece, I made acquaintance with another Mediterranean country, Italy. There I learned the importance of community. Locals were almost as fiery as in Greece, but outside the workplace they emphasized enjoying life. When we went to dinner after the matches, we really enjoyed it. I usually went home after three hours, always among the first to leave. Throughout my time there, the Italians wondered –  did Shawn not enjoy himself as he has already gone home?

I also had time to visit France in my career. A couple of months’ visit was enough to get an idea of the French mentality, the pride of the old superpower. Everything showed that France has been a world power. Historical anecdotes were cultivated in every speech and the assumption was that the outsider speaks French. If there was chaos in Greece, in France there was etiquette at the heart of everything – things are done in a certain way, in a certain order, under certain conditions.

I spent the second half of my international professional career, more than half a decade, in Germany. From a Finnish perspective, German punctuality was both truth and myth. Things were handled almost in a  Nordic way and even more friendly, but there was also a formality and bureaucracy that was strange from a Finnish perspective, especially in the hierarchy. The pecking order is adhered to in Germany, and one lower down rarely challenges the higher. Perhaps that is why German society is known for being so functional.

After four years in the United States and eleven years in Europe, I returned to Finland on the verge of middle age. My years abroad had opened my eyes to what a functional and effortless society this is. Early childhood education and school are world-class. Public services, from libraries to swimming pools and public transport, are truly for everyone. Nature is close by, people have room to live. I missed something from every culture, but most of all I learned to love my motherland.

To work in Europe, you need to be able to understand Europe, its history, different cultures and ways of being. Over the course of eleven years, I had countless conversations with the locals, learned and assimilated, and yet I feel that I have only scratched the surface.

Now my basic studies in Europeanism have been completed. Without those basic studies, I might never have understood my own Finnishness so well. I can proudly say that I was Finland’s representative in Europe. It has also set a vision for the future.

Shawn Huff
The author is a Green European election candidate