My personal experience about formally taking refuge, per your request...
My cousin from the West Coast and I (East coast) reconnected in 2006 and discovered we'd both been studying Buddhism, but neither of us had a teacher or had taken refuge. So we decided we needed to see a teacher, and one just happened to be offering a two-night teaching that weekend about 1 1/2 hour drive away. So we went. The first night was nothing spectacular, very basic, but the second night was a wowie. (We're up to 6 hours of driving so far...) At the very end of the second evening's talk, the teacher mentioned he would be giving refuge vows the next day (a Monday), at a different center, almost 2 hours away. I was very excited, and decided right then I would go. My cousin had a commitment on Monday and couldn't come, so I went by myself. When I found the place, it turned out to be a Karma Kagyu center serving an almost exclusively Chinese sangha. There were maybe three or four non-Chinese people there. I had no idea what to do, so just followed everyone else into the shrine hall, sat on a cushion, and waited. Apparently, unbeknownst to the newbie, there was also an empowerment (uh, what?) being given (who knew?) and the refuge was afterwards. The program was taught in Tibetan with Chinese translation, not one word of English.
So I sat, and just tried to open my heart, and waited to the end, when someone asked those who wanted to take refuge to come forward. I joined the line (head and shoulders above everyone else!) and went up, got a haircut and a new name, and took refuge. From that moment on, the rest of the day is a complete blur. I managed to drive home (another 2 hours), but don't remember one thing about it.
BTW, the teacher was Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. I found out later who he is, and that the empowerment I received was Karma Pakshi. I am forever grateful to Rinpoche for the great gift he gave me, for my refuge, and for my guru whom I met the following year; I am indeed a lucky student.
So - my suggestions to you would be to just go and open your heart, go with great willingness and fearlessness and compassion - and maybe take someone with you to drive you home. Best of luck to you on your journey.