Background: Single-charge-exchange reactions are appropriate tools to study the nuclear response to one-particle/one-hole isospin probes, gaining additional interest from the connection to beta decay. This analogy has been recently extended to second order, connecting double-charge-exchange reactions and double beta decays. Nowadays, the availability of powerful experimental setups and advanced nuclear theories and models allows one to access precious information on key nuclear structure aspects embedded in the widely sought neutrinoless double beta decay. Purpose: We intend to bring to light the main nuclear structure and reaction features involved in the O18+C12 collision at 275 MeV incident energy. In this paper, the main focus is on the role of the initial- and final-state interactions in the overall reaction dynamics and on the single-particle nuclear structure properties accessed via the study of single-nucleon transfer reactions. Forthcoming articles will be devoted to go into the details of the response to one- and two-particle/hole isospin probes. Methods: Cross-section energy spectra and angular distributions were measured in a unique experimental setup for the C12(O18,O18)C12 elastic and inelastic scattering, the C12(O18,O17)C13 one-neutron stripping, the C12(O18,F19)B11 one-proton pickup, and the C12(O18,F18)B12 single-charge-exchange nuclear reactions. A unique comprehensive and coherent theoretical calculation, able to describe the whole network of direct reactions using state-of-the-art nuclear structure and reaction theories, was performed, and it is presented for the first time in this article. This holistic approach, applied both to the experimental and theoretical analysis, is the main feature and worth of the work here presented. Results: The energy and angular resolutions achieved in each reaction channel allowed us to isolate specific transitions and to map the diffraction patterns in the angular distributions. The cross-section calculations describe well the experimental data, both in terms of the absolute values and diffraction patterns. Although the distorted wave Born approximation (DWBA) calculations prove to be accurate in describing all the studied channels, better results are achieved when the couplings to inelastic transitions in both the incoming and outgoing partitions are introduced, as done in the coupled channels Born approximation (CCBA) calculations. Otherwise, no real improvement is found when the coupling effects among different partitions are explicitly taken into account in the coupled reaction channels (CRC) calculations. Conclusions: The multichannel approach proposed in this paper is a promising method for accurate investigations of direct reactions originating in heavy-ion collisions. This is quite appealing for the precise spectroscopy of heavy nuclei proposed in many areas of nuclear physics. An example is the NUMEN project with its challenging commitment to provide valuable information on neutrinoless double beta decay nuclear matrix elements from single- and double-charge-exchange cross-section measurements.